Perfectionism in Teens

I often have parents tell me how their adolescent went from not settling for anything less than an A to “not caring” about doing any work at all.

If this has happened to you, then you know it may appear that your teen has “given up” or is “lazy,” when really he is experiencing a burnout from caring too much. These adolescents are experiencing perfectionism, which often results in feelings of anxiety and even depression.

What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism in teens is longing to be successful, and refusing to accept anything less than “perfect.” What it usually turns into is stress and worry.
Perfectionism tends to be termed as “black and white thinking” (the tendency to see things as all good or all bad). Symptoms may include: procrastination; dissatisfaction with the standard of their work; school avoidance; avoidance of asking questions for fear of being wrong; and a struggle coping with mistakes. Symptoms of perfectionism can lead to feelings of depression, social isolation, anxiety, and the inability to focus on and finish tasks.

What can you do to help your adolescent?
1. Empathize with your teen. Show your teen that you understand that what they are experiencing is challenging.
2. Engage in open and honest communication. Find a time to talk with your teen about what is truly important to them. Help them see that there are many paths to success and you are confident they will get there.
3. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to be highly effective in helping teens who are experiencing perfectionism.
CBT works on re-framing distorted/irrational thinking and teaches adolescents to learn rational ways of thinking as well as healthy coping strategies.
4. Ask your teen, “What are some ways that your performance was good?” This will help to create more positive outcomes and more positive thinking over time.

Remember, it takes time and practice to change patterns and habits of the mind. Be patient with your teen and in turn, teach your teen to be patient with himself or herself.

Here’s to your Well Being!
Maria Antoniou, LMFT
Licensed Therapist