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Description: Are you aware of the consistent finding that the rates of perfectionism among adolescents and emerging adults have increased dramatically over the past 20 to 30 years? Young people driving themselves to be perfect, holding themselves to I possibly high standards, and believing that doing so is essential to moving forward positively in life in an increasingly common phenomenon. The article linked below talks about this from a general journalistic perspective with reference to a study in the area. Before you read it, however, think about this question for a moment. If this rise in perfectionism is a current fact (it is!) where does it come from? What is driving it and given your answers to these two questions, what might be done about it? There is a suggestion in the article that parents need to stop driving or avoid starting to drive their adolescent children towards perfectionism. While that may be part of a solution it is worth thinking that just as perfectionism among adolescents and emerging adults is a relatively new phenomenon so to is the phenomenon of parents “driving” their offspring to it. That suggests that some of this observed parental push to perfectionism is correlational or otherwise suggestive of other, larger, causal forces at work. As you read the linked article think about what those larger forces might involve and about where they arise from and THEN think about what steps might be taken to effectively address perfectionism among young people that go beyond simply telling them and their parents to stop it.

Source: The problem with Perfect, Jennifer Breheny Wallace, The Windsor Star.

Date: April 2, 2022

Image by nicoleagiordano from Pixabay

Article Link:

The article DID have some very thoughtful suggestions about things that parents could do to help their adolescent and emerging adult children with their struggles with perfectionism. However, there was very little in the article that spoke to the question of where the rise in perfectionism came from beyond suggestions that parent should stop driving their offspring towards it. One hint was in the line about the increased focus on individuality in western culture but that was not elaborated upon. What did you come up with in the way of possible larger causal forces? The shift in individualism is a good clue. It suggests that the sorts of social bonds that linked us and that helped sustain us and move us forward in difficult developmental times have weakened or even vanished. Leaving questions of spirituality aside it IS rather striking that attendance at church and other face-to-face (local) social locations and events have also significantly declined over the time-period in question. Add to this the finding that the jobs that many (perhaps upwards of 65%) young people end up doing once they complete their education and head into their careers did not exist when they were in school, and you can see another of the things driving young people’s uncertainty. If as “individuals” young people are looking into a world and a future where their outcome are entirely up to them and in which the possible pathways forward are shrouded in fog and uncertainty it is really not surprising at all that they are entertaining and acting upon the belief that they must be perfect in everything they still have any sort of control over (such as their school marks) if they are to contend with the foggy uncertainties of their futures. Now THAT is something to take on if we want to reduce the consequences of steeply rising perfectionism.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How big an issue are current rates of perfectionism among young people today?
  2. What roles do parents play in their adolescent’s perfectionism and is it fair to criticize parents for their role in this?
  3. What are some of the larger (socio-historical) causal forces driving this increase in perfectionism and what sorts of things might be done to reduce their impact on young people?

References (Read Further):

Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., Nepon, T., Sherry, S. B., & Smith, M. (2022). The destructiveness and public health significance of socially prescribed perfectionism: A review, analysis, and conceptual extension. Clinical Psychology Review, 102130. Article Summary

Miloseva, L., & Vukosavljevic-Gvozden, T. (2014). Perfectionism dimensions in children: Association with anxiety and depression. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 159, 78-81. Link

Asseraf, M., & Vaillancourt, T. (2015). Longitudinal links between perfectionism and depression in children. Journal of abnormal child psychology, 43(5), 895-908. Link

Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Ge, S. Y., Hewitt, P. L., Flett, G. L., & Baggley, D. L. (2022). Multidimensional perfectionism turns 30: A review of known knowns and known unknowns. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie canadienne, 63(1), 16. Link

Smith, M. M., Hewitt, P. L., Sherry, S. B., Flett, G. L., & Ray, C. (2021). Parenting behaviors and trait perfectionism: A meta-analytic test of the social expectations and social learning models. Journal of Research in Personality, 104180. Link

Smith, M. M., Sherry, S. B., Ray, C., Hewitt, P. L., & Flett, G. L. (2021). Is perfectionism a vulnerability factor for depressive symptoms, a complication of depressive symptoms, or both? A meta-analytic test of 67 longitudinal studies. Clinical psychology review, 84, 101982. Link