Researchers have begun to find interesting patterns in the increase of mental health struggles in teens, including anxiety and depression. While some have tried to pin these phenomena on increased screen time, social media, and lack of interpersonal skills, there is an additional field of thought that technology may not be the root of all struggles.
The Rise of Perfectionism
Psychologists Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill believe that a rise in perfectionism is the actual reason for the increase in emotional and mental health struggles, particularly among teens. In their new study called "Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time" Curran and Hill report that young people are more burdened than ever by pressure from others, and that includes parents. The researchers define perfectionism as "a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations." They caution that the definition is multidimensional and that this broad definition only gives a small picture of the overall traits of perfectionist teens.
This does not remove all of the blame from technology, though, and these high personal standards and critical self-evaluations are linked to the rise in the use of social media. Teens, who are on social media, tend to look for instant and constant validation from their peers about every aspect of their life - from what they are wearing to their grades to whom they are friends with.
Since 2000, there has been a 33 percent increase in the number of teens who suffer from the kind of perfectionism that relies on the acceptance and approval of others. They look to peers on social media, parents with high expectations and a college admission process that is increasingly competitive. Such a competitive environment has an impact on teen learning overall. Teens are often afraid to be viewed as failing in the eyes of another person, particularly one whose opinion they value. Such feelings are associated with both anxiety and depression.
What Can Parents Do?
It may seem that in a highly competitive world all is lost, that there is no hope for raising a well-adjusted mentally healthy child. As with most mental health concerns, modeling behavior is one of the most important ways that parents can help their teens. If your teen knows that you are hard on yourself, especially if you are successful, they will internalize perfectionism as a way to achieve their goals. You should not only acknowledge feelings of stress in front of your child but make sure that you are not adding to your teen's own feelings. On the other hand, diminishing your child's feelings or anxiety will only add to it. Instead, listen and offer to help in any way you can. And if your teen does ask for help, make sure to give it to them.
Coping Mechanisms for Feelings
Emotional regulation is hard for all humans - from birth to 100 years old. We react. That is how we are wired. We need to have coping mechanisms for our feelings, particularly during the times of our lives when our brains are changing most. So, it is important that we teach our teens how to acknowledge their own emotions.
Think about this: if a person can state that they are angry, they may be less likely to express that anger physically. So, if a person can report that they are anxious or worried, they may be less likely to express those feelings physically. Naming our struggles is a basic coping mechanism. If your teen is struggling with perfectionism, helping them articulate their feelings can help them to discover the root and develop ways to bypass the perfectionism.
Perfectionism is not always negative. It can drive people to achieve great things, but we should know that it cannot come at the risk of mental health. It is also important to acknowledge when outside help is needed and when simply recognizing feelings is not enough to help your teen.