When my son started high school, his older sister said, "Don't peak in high school." She warned him against striving for the perfect experience – the perfect grades, athletic performance, and social life.
Often, students go into high school driven towards perfectionism like this. Parents, friends, and social media can pressure them to excel personally, socially, and academically.
Teens hope that by doing well before graduation, they will excel later. However, research shows that perfectionism is unnecessary for students to thrive after high school.
I've seen this truth firsthand as a family life coach and parent. Instead, I encourage parents to refrain from guiding their teens toward a perfect high school performance or raise teens who prioritize flawless achievements.
One of the most significant areas where teens struggle with perfectionism is with grades. Adults often stress the importance of getting all A's.
But did you know that good grades aren't needed for success? Often, the individuals who were not at the top of their class go on to be masters in their respective fields, according to the book Hidden Potential, The Science of Achieving Greater Things by Adam Grant.
Success is multidimensional, and academic performance is only one aspect of it. While students who receive Bs and Cs may have a lower GPA, they gain valuable skills in other ways. These grades give students experience in overcoming challenges, embracing failure as a learning opportunity, and developing resilience in adversity.
My son didn't always get perfect grades in high school, and he was still accepted at several universities and completed his degree in four years. Afterward, he returned to complete his master's degree and finished his education by being the commencement speaker for his graduate class.
His "imperfect" high school performance did not hinder his future successes.
Often, kids learn to chase after perfectionism because of what they see on their screens. On social media, teens see seemingly perfect students, influencers, and athletes. The millions of voices online make teens feel inadequate as if they need to do more.
Social media is deeply ingrained in our culture — it's nearly impossible for teens not to be influenced.
Parents can intervene and help teens navigate what they see online. First, start by teaching your teens to have self-worth and healthy mindsets. From a young age, children should learn that their value doesn't hang on appearances, grades, or friends.
It's important to also teach media literacy: the ability to critically analyze information on media, such as Instagram or TikTok, and determine its accuracy or credibility. This also includes how to scroll mindfully, not taking everything online as truth.
Children can have healthier relationships with social media by creating and setting boundaries that prevent them from being lured into social media's more harmful mindsets.
Additionally, parents can advocate for children's protection on social media. Parents can share any social media safety concerns with boards of education and state and local government. As a family life coach, I am increasingly vying for better ways to protect our youth.
While parent don't always intentionally teach their teens to be perfect, sometimes they unconsciously contribute to this through their attitudes or reactions. It's important to remember not to praise your teen only for perfect actions and instead teach the value of imperfections.
I suggest parents teach children to focus on achieving what is "perfectly acceptable" rather than what is perfect. This enables teens to set clear, challenging goals without expecting flawlessness. Goals must emphasize progress and pushing one's limits, not just the final result.
Additionally, parents can teach teens that imperfections are part of the journey toward personal and professional growth.
By embracing imperfection, setting realistic goals, and fostering a supportive environment, parents can empower their teens to navigate the challenges ahead without surrendering to the pressure of perfection.
So often, we push and pressure ourselves to be perfect. Are you putting more and more expectations on yourself? Are you afraid of failure?
Perfectionism is not needed to reach one's full potential. Instead, focus on the progress made, whether big or small. Sometimes, you will take a few steps backward, but keep pushing ahead and learn from every shortcoming. It's so important to give yourself grace.
Remember to look back and think how your past self would see your current achievements. Let yourself be proud and amazed about your growth. Remember, gauge your success through the obstacles you've overcome.
You don't need to be perfect. Instead, focus on growing and pushing yourself step by step.
Gale McKoy Wilkins is a family life coach, mother, grandmother, and founder of the nonprofit Family Education Initiative. She has an expert certification from the Family Life Coaching Association with a specialization in parent and teen support. Additionally, Gale leads a family life coaching organization based in North Carolina.
Keep up with your baby's development, get the latest parenting content and receive special offers from our partners