School is out for the summer, which can be a challenge for perfectionist teens – The Brock News

While many students appreciate having the summer off from school, this downtime may strike a different chord with perfectionist teens.

The loss of structure and purpose provided by rigid school schedules and assignments can cause anxiety in some young people, which can become apparent just days after summer break, says Danielle Sirianni Molnar (BA '01, MA '05, PhD '11), associate professor of child and youth studies at Brock University.

“Parents may notice that their teens feel restless unless they are busy or working toward their unusually high goals,” says the Canada Research Chair in Child and Youth Adjustment and Well-Being. “It’s not uncommon for perfectionist teens to tell us that they tend to ‘over-plan’ their summers to keep their momentum and make the most of their time.”

That might mean taking up new hobbies, playing a sport, learning a new language or volunteering — in many cases to ensure they're good candidates for scholarships, college applications or future careers, says Sirianni Molnar.

“Keep in mind that this is in addition to their paid employment and social time,” she says.

Sirianni Molnar, who has studied teen perfectionism for the past decade, encourages parents to be on the lookout for signs of “activity-based self-esteem,” in which teens base their worth as human beings on their ability to consistently engage in meaningful activities.

To learn more about the behavior of perfectionistic teens, his research team is seeking participants for its new study, “Living with Perfectionism.”

Youth ages 12 to 18 who identify as perfectionists and their parents or guardians can sign up for the study by emailing [email protected]. They must live within a reasonable driving distance of Brock, as part of the research will be conducted in a Brock lab.

Danielle Sirianni Molnar, Canada Research Chair in Child and Youth Adjustment and Well-Being, is leading a new study on perfectionism in adolescents.

Participants will be asked questions, but with a twist: instead of answering verbally or with numbers on a scale, the teen and their parent will take photos separately to illustrate their answers.

The duo will then come to the lab and discuss their photos with each other and the researchers.

At the end of the study period, participants will receive gift cards for their participation and will have the option to have their photos featured in an exhibition, where members of the public can view the images and learn the stories behind them.

“We want it to be an immersive experience where the audience can feel what the participants are feeling to better understand what the daily lives of young perfectionists and their families are like,” explains Sirianni Molnar.

She says research on the topic is important to raise awareness, because parents often fail to recognize the signs of perfectionism and the damage it causes to their children's mental and physical health.

“Young perfectionists wear this mask of perfection that prevents them from sharing with others, leading to profound social disconnection,” she explains. “While they view this mask as protective, persistent loneliness can lead to mental health issues like depression, isolation, anxiety, and chronic stress.”

According to Sirianni Molnar, perfectionist teens aren't as successful in life as they seem. According to studies that examine their objective performance, most perfectionist teens don't perform much better than their peers. In some cases, they may even perform worse because their anxiety about having everything perfect causes them to procrastinate.

Perfectionistic teens also tend to seek validation by “monitoring” the eye contact, facial expressions and body language of people they interact with, as well as through “likes” and comments on social media, she says.

Receiving unsupportive feedback from others can cause debilitating anxiety in perfectionistic teens.

“Perfectionist teens interpret feedback very differently than less perfectionist teens,” says Sirianni Molnar. “If someone hears someone say, ‘You look good,’ a lot of people will take that as a compliment,” she says. “But the perfectionist teen will ask, ‘Just good? Why just good? What’s wrong?’”

She says her research aims to help parents, teens and teachers recognize the signs of perfectionism and “provide resources to help young perfectionists let go of their perfectionistic tendencies so they can thrive.”

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