Perfectionism is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.” While some have thought this trait to be a positive in the past, new research is showing the harm it can cause. In the article, The Dangerous Downsides of Perfectionism, the negative impact of perfectionism is discussed. Boys are not immune to perfectionism, but because girls are still socialized differently, it is important to understand how perfectionism manifests in girls and how it can be addressed.
There are many factors contributing to the increase in perfectionism in girls. They include:
- Social media
The messages girls receive from social media are about being the prettiest, happiest, or having the newest “it” item. Images of photoshopped models and staged events send messages to young girls that they, too, must appear “perfect.” Hence, the journey to perfectionism begins. Research is showing however, such as in the study conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health, that social media usage results in increased anxiety, depression, and sleep issues for children.
- Increased Pressure to Achieve and Please
In a survey conducted by Ruling Our eXperiences (ROX), researchers found there are a growing number of girls that feel pressure to please others in their lives. In addition, those that are the highest achievers are the ones that most often feel the need to please. They want to be the best in every way and receive the accolades that usually accompany those achievements.
- Competitiveness Amongst Friends
Girls are very aware of the successes of those around them. The need to always be in first place, or “one-up” the person next to them can become burdensome. Instead of focusing on their own strengths, they begin to compare themselves to others and try to be the “best” in every aspect of their life. Not only is this not realistic, it takes away from the joy of being able to celebrate others when they have success and have that reciprocated in return.
Why is this a problem and what can be done?
The issue of perfectionism in girls is one that we, as a society, should care about and be invested in addressing because it too often results in students experiencing both adverse mental and physical health issues, such as anxiety, depression, and lack of sleep. Additionally, girls are struggling to cope with the criticism and failure that they will undoubtedly face throughout their lifetimes.
Educators and parents can help girls address perfectionism in the following ways:
- Help students keep perspective.
Remind students to keep perspective of the bigger picture. Not every day will be filled with success. There will be obstacles and mistakes along the way. Learning how to cope with less than “perfect” situations will result in students that are able to persevere during challenging times.
- Support students in enhancing their Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
In the article, The Importance of Fostering Emotional Intelligence in Girls, it is discussed how girls need to be taught to identify and name emotions they are feeling, even ones that are uncomfortable. When children are able to identify and verbalize how they feel, they will be empowered to handle difficult situations that come their way. In the face of adversity, mistakes, or failure, knowing how to articulate how they feel about a situation will allow girls to be more resilient in the future.
- Communicate clearly and often about social media.
Talking to your children often about social media can make a huge difference in the impact it has on them and their lives. The University of Texas recommends many ways parents can talk to their children about social media. Most importantly, parents should model appropriate social media use and set age-appropriate limits and boundaries for technology usage at home.
- Engage students in productive conflict resolution skills.
In the article, How Empowering Girls to Confront Conflict and Buck Perfection Helps Their Well-Being, the author notes the importance of girls learning the skills necessary to navigate conflict with peers and others throughout their lifetimes. Because relationships are so significant in the lives of girls, it is important for them to know how to resolve conflict as it will inevitably occur at one point or another. One meaningful way to learn conflict resolution skills is through role play. Acting out anticipated scenarios of conflict with an adult can give children the tools they need to face those experiences when they arise in real life. Adults are also significant role models in the lives of their children and should model appropriate ways to handle conflict, adversity, and failure when it comes their way.
Together We Can Make a Difference
While perfectionism in girls is on the rise and can be impacted by social media, the pressure to achieve and please others, and competitiveness amongst peers, there are ways in which the issue can be addressed. By helping students to keep perspective, increasing emotional intelligence, engaging in conversations about social media, and teaching productive conflict resolution skills, girls will be more equipped to handle the challenging situations they encounter. The mental and physical well-being of our girls is at stake, and we must do all we can to support them.