There’s a new bully in town and I just can’t seem to get her out of my mind.
I’ve spent a lot of time with this bully, so I feel like I know a thing or two that might help you be better prepared if this bully strikes in your home or at someone you love.
Unlike the bullies of yesteryear, this bully knows no limits, exercises no bias, and leaves no stone un-turned when it comes to taunting and demoralizing its victims. The bully has complete, 24/7, access to our hearts, minds, and self-esteem and strikes in such a way that we don’t realize we’ve been hit with a stone, stick, or a name! Without care to popularity, intelligence, looks, talents, and interests- this bully attacks regardless of sex, race, religion, and economic status. The bully ridicules and demeans clothing, hair, skin, size, shape, weight… she attacks intelligence, beauty, skills, and talents. This bully LOVES to taunt all people- however, this bully REALLY LOVES our adolescent youth (kids between the middle school and college years)- and is so skilled at deception that our kids don’t even realize they need to talk about the tactics this bully uses to tear them down, beat them up, or deflate their self-image.
With many manifestations, this bully, most frequently, goes by one simple name-
However, simple is not an accurate representation of the impact this bully has on our children’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. And, the word ‘perfection’ is really just a neat and trendy envelope to put a label on something that is capturing the attention of media, research, and wellness advocates worldwide.
I, myself, am a recovering perfectionist; I live with, and love dearly, several perfectionists and I have spent the past several years studying perfectionism and its impact on the well-being and distress in today’s youth. Rising rates of perfectionism and decreasing levels of emotional well-being in adolescents seem to go hand in hand worldwide. Stories of adolescent emotional and mental disorders are a rampant plague that lies behind closed doors in our homes, neighborhoods, schools, cities, states, and countries! Scientists in the 2010’s continue to uncover statistics that tell the story of a bully that knows no bounds. Estimates suggest that 2 out of every 9 adolescents in the United States meets the criteria for SEVERE impairment due to emotional distress; 1 in 4 girls struggle with maladaptive perfectionism and 71% of male suicide completers were known to struggle with socially prescribed demands for perfection (study by Flett & Hewitt, 2014). Studies from across the world tell us that adolescent suicide is on the rise at increasingly alarming rates, where some countries report it as the top or second leading risk of adolescent death.
Perfectionism is a really loose fitting blanket that describes traits or beliefs that an individual must be, or seek to become, perfect. It is a lot more than wanting to be or do our best, working with high expectations, or meeting the expectations of others. If you check facebook, look for motivational quotes, pin on pinterest, read magazines, or listen to podcasts- you’ve heard the stories and the concerns about perfectionism today!
In a tiny little nutshell, Perfectionistic traits can be separated into two very distinct categories: adaptive and maladaptive perfectionistm!
Adaptive Perfectionists tend to set High Expectations for themselves BUT, know when to step back and reassess successes AND failures!! Ahhhh, if you come to any of my yoga classes- I talk about this A LOT!!!
Maladaptive Perfectionists, on the other hand, attempt to live up to very HIGH Expectations for themselves, BUT tend to beat themselves up with negative self-talk in the way of doubt, fear, guilt, and critical self-appraisals in the face of failure. Also common among those who struggle with maladaptive perfectionistic tendencies is the lack of time spent celebrating success- when they meet their goals or expectations, these people tend to move quickly on to something else. Again, if you come to my yoga classes, I talk a lot about offering the same commitment and intensity to celebrating your progress as you do in working towards goals, dreams, desires, and expectations!
Though there is a lot more to discuss about Maladaptive Perfectionistic Traits, all of which is valuable in helping our kids overcome these tendencies- but today, I am more concerned with suggesting a few things that can be done to help our youth eliminate the effect this new bully has on Adolescent Wellness:
- Teach them to be accountable, but only for their own actions
- Let them Fail
- Praise WHO they are, not WHAT they can do
- Develop Goal Setting skills
- Encourage talent development AND using these talents to serve others
- Be an advocate and an example of FORGIVENESS
- Help them see multiple ways to accomplish difficult tasks
- Tell them your stories (and your parents’ stories), the stories of success and of failure
- Help them find connection
- Understand the adolescent journey ***
Easier said than done, right?? There is a lot of data, research, and hypotheses surrounding the study of a generation struggling with distress disorders ranging from manageable to debilitating. Discussions can be centered around the increasingly prominent role of social media and technology in the lives of today’s teens. Likewise, conversation could turn to heightened competition and intense demands for excellence in a generation of over-scheduled youth who have little time to rest and simply “be” kids. I could talk to the research forever, but I am more of “so what” kind of gal-
“So what can I do, what can we do, to encourage health and wellness in this amazingly talented, gifted, and driven generation?”
Adolescence, without any encouragement from parents, is a time of exploration! Babies naturally explore their world by putting things in their mouths- much to the dismay of parents worldwide, this happens without parental prompting or teaching. Similarly, adolescence is a time to explore religion, sexuality, beliefs, and interests. THIS IS NORMAL!!!*** It is also a period where individuals have a heightened self-awareness- good and bad- which means our kiddos are chronically aware of what other people think, say, (or post) about them! And to them, it DOES matter!
But, and I mean, this is a BIG BUT- adolescence is also a critical time for developing the way the heart and mind work together to make sense of ALL the stimuli the world throws in their direction. The ages from 12-24 are not only the years to explore, but also the years that define, shape, and cultivate the way youth PROCESS their world and their place in it. This is where the list above comes in handy. These 10 items will become the tools in the tool belt of success as our kiddos navigate their storms and make sense of their chaos.
Start now, Start young, and Stay Strong