I have thoroughly enjoyed being back out and about in the last few weeks, giving talks in schools, to pupils, teachers and parents, but I have noticed that time and again my awareness raising about perfectionism leads a lot of people to approach me with their personal worries.
Teachers are increasingly aware of the perfectionistic traits of their pupils, and parents see what I describe in my talks playing out at home. This worries them.
So what is it that they are noticing?
It is often a child who is unhappy if their work isn't 'perfect'. A teen who achieves 95% in a test so spends hours worrying about the 'missing' 5% or feels that they are a 'failure' for not scoring 100%. Teens who feel that they have to be perfect in the eyes of their parents and teachers (usually not because of parent or teacher expectations, but because they feel driven to be this way). They might also screw up their work and throw it away, again and again, if it doesn't feel 'perfect' to them. These are just some of the behaviours that can be observed, and which cause stress to all concerned.
Perfectionism can mean high levels of self criticism, to a toxic level, or fear of what others think of you, or being critical of others, because of your own very high stadards. It affects people differently, but the common thread is that the more perfectionistic you are, the more likely you are to struggle with mental health issues.
Anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression and eating issues are all more common if a young person is strongly perfectionistic.
This is why we, as parents and teachers, need to address perfectionism, intervene gently, and challenge the thinking behind it ('I'm a failure', 'I'm letting people down').
There are things that we can do to re-set these toxic thinking patterns, and there are great resources to use too. See the links below. Take a look and find what might be most useful to you and your teen or tween.
And if you are wondering why more young people are perfectionistic, my TEDx talk (link below) explains some theories!
It isn't easy to address, but what I am trying to say is don't ignore it - because perfectionism could be harmful if left unchallenged.
My TEDx may be helpful, a lot of young people have said it really speaks to their experiences, and it has helpful advice for parents too.
Also this animation is nice to explain it to young people
Plus the amazing Aardman website called What's Up With Everyone is great
Need a Book?
York St John uni has some of the leading research on the topic.
The resources for schools on this page may be useful to do at home too?https://www.nace.co.uk/page/perfectionism