How a teenager who is a perfectionist may be dealing with crippling anxiety

Published Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, 9:51 am

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Most teenagers are always juggling between the demands of academics, friendships, sports, social media and many other activities. A teen who is a perfectionist may therefore tend to be on a mission to try and show total perfection in everything that they do in all these spheres of life. They, for this reason, may set standards that are often so high, and which may only be met with very great difficulty. The result therefore is that such teens will always have constant fear of making even the smallest of mistakes, since they fear that that could show that they are worthless and failures. This, with time, may lead to high levels of anxiety.

Relationship between perfectionism and anxiety

Most teenagers who suffer from being perfectionists may experience various forms of distress, especially through being overly anxious. This is so because perfectionism is more about trying very much to push yourself to achieve a goal. In actual sense, this is often a mirage of the inner self, masked in deep anxiety.

The kind of anxiety that these teenagers may experience can come in the form of a number of disorders. The latter includes General Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and many other related triggers surrounding anxiety.

Perfectionism by itself therefore tends to further propel anxiety by creating very high standards that the state of anxiousness in itself hinders these teens from achieving. For this reason, many teenagers who are perfectionists end up having a very hard time in deciphering tasks that are done to their satisfaction.

What the feeling of desperately wanting to be perfect, leads to eventually is exhaustion, great frustration, procrastination, risk-aversion and lack of the much-needed focus that will ultimately interfere with the ability to complete tasks. For such teens, even in the event that a task is successfully completed, the anxiety will not really get quenched, since they will immediately get a new target and hence the cycle begins again.

Common signs of perfectionism in teenagers

There are quite a number of things that you can look out for, that can help tell whether or not your teenager is a perfectionist. Listed below are some of the most common signs:

  • Mostly avoids raising their hands in class to answer questions, for fear of being wrong.
  • Gets overly stressed and upset when they attain grades that are below what they had anticipated.
  • Keep procrastinating doing assignments until they are 100% sure that they have all that it takes in terms of what to do, or how to earn a very high grade on the assignment.
  • Gets easily dissatisfied and unappreciative with standard work, which is perceived by others to be just fine and acceptable.
  • May avoid starting a task for fear that they might end up not doing it well and right.
  • Have real struggle with coping with mistakes, and at the same time, may seem to take very personally, any form of criticism.
  • Have a high fixation on neatness and general appearance of any work they are tasked with, and may often start over several times, just to get it right.

Factors that may contribute to perfectionism in teenagers

There are very many factors that may result in perfectionism in teenagers. Discussed below are some of these factors:

Biological factors

Research has shown that perfectionism may be related very closely to certain mental illnesses.

These illnesses include disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), as well as eating disorders. Some research scientists therefore do strongly believe that perfectionism may have a biological component linked to it.

Academic pressures

Most teenagers are often under the impression that you have to get stellar performance academically in order to get anywhere in life. Some of them also get this kind of pressure as a way of wanting to please their parents. They may even fear that test scores that are less than perfect may thwart their chances of receiving scholarships at school. The result of this therefore is often the pressure to be perfect in everything they do academically, which often really makes them feel so anxious all the time.

Being raised by parents who are perfectionists

When you as a parent tends to be a perfectionist whatever you do, then there will be very high likelihood in your children imitating that; with the thought that it is the norm. The child will hence have learned behavior from the quest for perfection, being shown by the parent. This may then lead to genetic disposition, since these children will also grow up and pass it to their own kids.


Traumatic experiences of the children as they are growing up; may in a very big way affect them when they are teenagers. This is mostly because they will then grow feeling unloved and have a falsified feeling that they will not be loved or accepted by the society, unless they are super perfect.

Influence from parents

There are times when too much praise and accolades from parents may lead to the teenagers believing that making mistakes is a bad thing. The result is that the teenagers will somewhat do whatever it takes to ensure that they live up to their parent’s expectations all the time. This will also push them towards believing that they have to succeed at all times no matter what. This is how anxiety will then get the room to check in.

Sensationalism of failure and success

The media always has a way of portraying most celebrities to be very perfect. These could range from athletes, musicians among other celebrities. The same media will try and portray how one single mistake led to a celebrity’s fall from glory. The impact of teenagers will then be the illusion that you have to be very perfect in everything that you do.

How to help your teenager deal with perfectionism

Perfectionism is very dangerous since it can easily lead to great anxiety and even depression in extreme cases. However, this can be avoided. As a parent, you can help your teenager overcome perfectionism through the following ways:

Help your teenager develop healthy self-esteem

You can help them with this by engaging them in activities that will make them feel good about what they have been able to achieve, and who they are in general.  You can also do this by encouraging them to learn new stuff and also volunteer in different projects.

Regulate your expectations on your teenager

You must ensure that you are not putting much pressure on your child to live up to very impossible expectations that you have set up for them, especially academically. Create very reasonable expectations for them, and even in the event that they don’t meet them, you still need to encourage them that it is well; and that there is always a next time.

Help them identify control issues

Help your teenager to clearly understand that there are some things that she can have control over, but there are others that she is not able to control. For instance, you need to help them learn and understand that they may not be able to control the circumstances that may influence their success academically. However, you can encourage them that they can control their effort towards striving for success.

Teach them healthy skills

You need to teach your child how to use and exercise personal compassion, as opposed to personal criticism all the time. Teach them to learn to have conversations with themselves from time to time in a bid to self-assure themselves that they can still do better tomorrow; irrespective of not being able to achieve what they had anticipated today. You also need to teach them how best to cope with failures. They need to know that failing is also part of life, in a quest to become better. This way, they will learn not to beat themselves up too much whenever they encounter failures. Such skills are often mostly taught and offered at places like the Child Anxiety Center in Cincinnati.


Perfectionism in teenagers is something that is very commonplace. It often results in great levels of anxiety that inhibits normalcy in them. In most cases, it often gets to affect their academic performance. There are quite a number of signs that you can look out for, as a parent in your child, that will show that they are struggling with this problem. However, there are also some ways in which you can help your teenage child overcome perfectionism, to live a normal and comfortable life.

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