the pressure to be Perfect
How Pressure to Be Perfect Affects a Teen’s Mental Health
Teens who live in a place like Orange County can feel the pressure to be perfect in many aspects of their lives. There’s academic pressure to get the best grades, social pressure to look a certain way, and performance pressure to be the best athlete. Sometimes our children put this extreme pressure on themselves. Other times, the pressure comes from multiple directions—school, home, friends, and social media.
As parents, we might want to dismiss or diminish the intense feelings our teen has about being perfect. But for them, the pressure is very real and needs to be taken very seriously. A teen’s mental and emotional health is as important as their physical health.
Perfectionism is the perceived need to be perfect.
Perfectionism can contribute to depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use, and other behavioral health concerns. In short, perfectionism can be harmful to our children’s well-being. Social media’s portrayal of perfect online lives can add to these feelings. Teens who struggle with perfectionism often turn to alcohol and other drugs as a way to self-medicate. When youth use drugs and alcohol to numb their pain, they miss out on learning healthier ways to work through their mental health challenges.
UNDERSTANDING TEEN STRESS AND ANXIETY
While feeling stressed or anxious is part of the normal range of human emotions, for some teens these feelings are so intense that they stop kids from doing everyday things. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorder in the U.S. In fact, eight percent of children and teens experience an anxiety disorder. If you think your child might have an anxiety disorder, be sure to reach out to a mental health professional for help.
Most normal anxiety goes away quickly, within a day or a few hours—and isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes feeling anxious can help keep children safe by getting them to think about the situation they’re in, motivate them to do their best, and get them ready for challenging undertakings, such as public speaking, test taking, or sporting events.
HOW PARENTS CAN HELP
Learning to manage anxiety is an important life skill, which you can help your child learn.
Stress the Importance of Healthy Choices
Talk to your child about the risks of alcohol and other drugs, both short-term (car crashes and other accidents) and long-term (reduced cognitive abilities). Why? Because the earlier a child or adolescent begins using substances, the chances of developing substance use problems become greater. Emphasize the benefits of making the choice to stay alcohol and drug free and help your child find alternative ways, such as journaling or meditation, to handle their stress and anxiety.
You can also help your child by encouraging them to use positive self-talk – for example, “I can handle this. I’ve been in situations like this before”. You can also encourage them to use self-compassion – for example, “It’s OK if I do this differently from other people. This way works for me.”
Encourage Brave Behavior
This involves gently encouraging your child to set small goals for things they feel anxious about. Just avoid pushing your child to face situations they don’t feel ready to face. For example, your child might be anxious about performing in front of others. As a first step, you could suggest your child practices their lines in front of the family.
Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings
Your child’s anxiety is real, even if the thing they feel anxious about is unlikely to happen. This means it’s important to acknowledge your child’s anxiety and tell them you’re confident they can handle it. This is better than telling them not to worry, because telling a child not to worry sends the message that worry isn’t a valid feeling. For example, your child might be anxious about passing an exam. Let them know you understand how they feel, but you’re sure they’ll do their best and that’s the most important thing. When you acknowledge your child’s feelings with warmth and compassion, it helps your child to use self-compassion in challenging situations too.
Encourage Your Child to Talk About Anxieties
Just talking about the things that make them anxious can reduce the amount of anxiety your child feels. Talking and listening also helps you understand what’s going on for your child. And when you understand, you’re better able to help your child manage anxieties or find solutions to problems.