Executive summary

  • Parents and youth are at greater risk of becoming stressed out as online connectivity hypes every uncertain and fearful thought
  • Perfectionism, the idea that you can meet unrealistic standards for self and others, is an unintended consequence of the desire to assume control over the environment and outcomes
  • “Perfectionism is not the same thing as a healthy pursuit of excellence,” says Dr. Jane Bluestein
  • Perfectionism is associated with anxiety and depression disorders
  • It is important to focus on the things you do have control over: a) setting realistic goals, b) monitor your reaction to failures and mistakes; c) temper the need to win with becoming a winner through your character not your accomplishments; d) be open to honest feedback; e) make learning the top priority in every endeavor; f) make curiosity, not fear, your motivation

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Dr. Jane Bluestein, founder of Instructional Support Services, Inc., works with adolescent and young adult mental health issues. Her book, Perfection Deception, provides insight into the impact of hyper-vigilant desires to be accepted and admired by others at all costs. You can find her at Jane Bluestein.

In a Washington Post feature, author and educator Rachel Simmons refers to a modern syndrome of parents called “child-contingent self-esteem,” which she explains is a parent hitching their sense of worth to their child’s successes and failures. This she observes contributes significantly to the problem of perfectionism adversely impacting tech-savvy youth. Citing a new study, Perfectionism is Increasing Over Time, she explains that youth of today are being raised by an achievement generation of parents who view their children’s accomplishments as their own.

Drawing from another study of 40,000 college students in U.S., Canada and Britain, Simmons reports that over the past three decades there has been a 33 percent jump in the kind of perfectionism wherein youth feel compelled to be perfect to win approval for others. “They [teens] believe that others judge them harshly, and they see their schools and families as unreasonably demanding,” she writes.

Of course social media hypes every fearful or anxious adolescent thought, which contributes significantly to the drive for perfectionism, and sets excessively high personal standards along with intense self-criticism. Most definitely this is not a healthy world view of self and others; perfectionism is associated with anxiety and depression disorders.

And while this journalist warns parents not to make things worse by telling their teens and young adults “you are putting too much pressure on yourself” (because the reality is they are feeling pressure signals from their social network and cues from parents), it is true that parents are also feeling pressure to be worried for their children’s safety and future. Mobile connectivity and social media create an environment that reveals intensely rich promises and risks of living in a free society. Never before has a generation of parents had so little perceived control over their children’s security, and I believe perfectionism is an unintended consequence.

Most parents want their children to be productive and happy. So what’s a parent to do?

Dr. Jane Bluestein spoke at the 16th Annual U.S. Journal Conference on Adolescents and Young Adults in Las Vegas last week. Her topic, Perfectionism: The High Cost of the Pressure to be Perfect for Adolescents and Young Adults, kicked off an entire week of a variety of research and findings to inform mental health professionals and educators on the strengths and the challenges of modern youth and best practices to help them. You can learn more from Bluestein’s book, Perfection Deception and you will find her at Jane Bluestein.

This is to share some of the insights I gleaned from Dr. Bluestein’s talk to help parents better engage youth and empower them to be the captains of their own ships in this networked sea of likes and followers.

What does perfectionism look like inside the person?

  • Sense of worth is inadvertently tied fear of failure. The expectation is to perform flawlessly.
  • Causes great embarrassment and intimacy issues (not wanting to be real with others)
  • Perceived loss of social status if the high standard is not met
  • Fear of disappointing or angering others
  • Feelings of rejection, exclusion, and abandonment associated with not hitting the mark

What are the risk factors that foster perfectionism?

  • Predisposition – nurtured by family encouraging flawless performance.
  • Conditional safety and approval attachments issues (overcompensating in performance for approval)
  • Over protection (parents preventing failures)
  • Frequent negative feedback, derision, and criticism
  • Having “perfect parents” (or siblings)
  • Associating with labels/emphasis on labels (college-bound, straight A student, ideal student, top-performing athlete)

What are some of the beliefs that promote a perfectionist world view?

  • Other people’s opinions define me and my worth
  • My worth = achievement, appearance and popularity
  • A need for status and worth to maintain attachment or sense of belonging
  • If the person perceives (s)he has to work harder than others to measure up, then I’m stupid or not good enough

What are some of the behaviors associated with perfectionism?

  • Comparing self to others for better or for worse (harsh inner critic)
  • Setting impossible, unhealthy goals
  • Procrastination (fear of starting because you might not succeed)
  • Never finishing (because then I would have to face the feedback of not being perfect)
  • Constantly refocusing to correct or do work over
  • Focusing on the negative
  • Telescopic thinking (minimize positive and obsess about errors)
  • Overcommitting (fear of saying no)
  • Overdoing (doing way more than is necessary)

What is the impact on relationships?

  • Unrealistic expectations and personal agendas
  • Unexpressed expectations (“why didn’t you….)
  • Criticism, anger, making others wrong
  • Focus on the negative
  • Disgust and contempt for the other
  • Alienation
  • Open hostility, deliberate sabotage

What are the personal costs of perfectionism?

  • “Stinkin’ thinkin’” – an all or nothing perception of what’s acceptable/distorted cognition
  • Anxiety and stress (bids for approval or conditional acceptance/pressure of unrealistic expectations)
  • Regrets, rumination, and trouble staying in the present
  • Decreased learning and work performance
  • Procrastination
  • Increased risk of self-harm, addictions and suicide

How to get well in response to perfectionism

  • Recognize that perfectionism is a pathology
  • Encourage excellence by shifting focus from negative to building on what’s right/see mistakes and failure as steps to personal growth
  • Avoid labels
  • Set achievable goals
  • Encourage revision
  • Help set boundaries and say no
  • Model and teach stress-busting techniques
  • Create a safe environment to be you
  • Provide support for addiction and self-harm issues
  • Focus on progress, not perfection; honor incremental improvements (Kaizen)
  • Avoid comparing self to others
  • Avoid focusing on your reaction and feelings as your main influence

Most of all, Bluestein reminds parents and youth: “You are more than enough.”

(Note: the insights about perfectionism shared in this feature are attributed to Dr. Jane Bluestein at www.janebluestein.com.)

IMPORTANT If you have concerns about your child or teen’s well being, and recognize any of these signs, seek help from a counselor. Contact Joanna (include your return email address) for a list of counselors to consider.

To learn more about creating a family culture that fosters trust, transparency and open communication with your teen, check out: Fresh Start.

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About:  We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device. To that end, ten percent of all proceeds are donated to prison ministries. Your donations are greatly appreciated. (Donations are payable to Banana Moments Foundation).

Joanna Jullien, Founder & CEO of Core Connectivity
Photo by: Victoria Hatch

Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.