|Wednesday, August 27th, 2008||| CWK Producer|
“You have to keep things in perspective. Academics are only a part of your life.”
– Zachary, 14
“Well, I’m getting all A’s, so that’s good,” he says.
He has won awards for academic achievement, including one for having the highest grade-point average. But what happens if someday Zachary doesn’t perform well in school?
“Part of me is always worried about that,” says his mother, Jen Yu. “Some day, when he hits that roadblock, is he gonna be able to accept it, or is it gonna be something, you know, that really bothers him a lot?”
While that may not be a problem for Zachary yet, more and more kids are experiencing anxiety about being perfect in school.
According to the latest State of our Nation’s Youth report, 79 percent of teens say the pressure to get good grades is a problem. That’s up from 62 percent in 2001.
45 percent polled say that pressure is “major”, up from 19 percent.
Experts say, for many teens, even when they do well, they still think they could do better.
“The problem is that they will always be anxious. They will always fail. Even when they have a 4-point average they will always fail in their own eyes and they can’t ever relax,” explains Dr. Allen Carter, a psychologist.
He says parents should help kids understand being perfect isn’t realistic and help them create balance in their lives- beyond academics.
Zachary’s parents encourage him to learn music, play games and simply relax.
"You have to keep things in perspective," Zachary says. "Academics are only a part of your life, and they should only stay a part of it and not become your whole life."
Even children who earn high marks at school may be suffering emotional distress and anxiety due to the high expectations they have set for themselves, according to a study from Smith College. In a study of 36 children in third through fifth grades, researchers found that children who rated high on perfectionism exhibited significantly more anxiety and dissatisfaction with their performance on computer tasks than their low-perfectionism peers, even when both groups performed equally well. In fact, the perfectionist kids predicted they would perform less well than the low-perfectionism kids. Lead researcher Patricia DiBartolo says the problem is not that kids are setting high standards; rather, they become too distressed and are not able to accept the mistakes they make in the course of learning.
“Perfectionistic kids get caught in a vicious cycle. When approaching a task or project, they feel less able to succeed, get anxious and then evaluate their performance more negatively than their non-perfectionistic peers,” DiBartolo said.
How big of a problem is perfectionism in childhood? According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, perfectionism is recognized as a “common correlate” of social anxiety disorder. Nationally, 1% (nearly 400,000) of children between the ages of 10 and 18 suffer from a clinical level of social anxiety disorder. Counselors at the University of Dundee associate the following negative feelings, thoughts and beliefs with perfectionism:
As a parent, how can you determine if your child has problems with perfectionism? Experts at the University of Texas cite the following guidelines comparing a perfectionist to a healthy striver:
The first step in changing your child’s perfectionistic attitudes to healthy striving is to help him or her realize that perfectionism is undesirable. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign suggests teaching your child the following strategies to change the behaviors and thoughts that fuel his or her perfectionism: