By Erica Gumbert
Students from all walks of life are being plagued by the same issue: perfectionism. Perfectionism is creating unrealistically high standards for oneself then suffering a constant depression since those goals are never met. While social media is an applicable scapegoat, the core of the issue can also be attributed to over-expectations in education and employment, according to Thomas Curran, a lead researcher from University of Pennsylvania.
Perfectionism is an ongoing issue in society today. Many may not realize how harmful the mindset can be, but to those affected by it, it can seem like a never-ending cycle of negativity.
Curran and Andrew P. Hill held a case study of over 40,000 high school and college students to see if perfectionistic tendencies had changed since 1989. They reported to The Enquirer that “socially prescribed perfectionism” increased by one third between 1989 and 2016. Socially prescribed perfectionism, Curran said in the study, is setting other people to impossibly high standards. This category of perfectionism is dangerous because it leads to mild to severe depression and suicidal thoughts and actions far more than the other categories of perfectionism, which can be found here.
Many McNick faculty and staff have seen the inflicting change of perfectionistic tendencies in their students’ behavior in the classroom. “For my honors students, it seems like their self-worth is tied to their grades. It pushes them to overwork themselves, and as a result, they think they aren’t good enough as people,” mathematics teacher Steve Dalton said. “In my experience as a teacher, this leads the students to anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.” He said that society isn’t helping either since the culture of the masses tells students that getting good grades makes them a good person, while getting bad grades makes them failures.
Theology teacher David Sandmann agreed with Dalton’s views that some of his students are overly perfectionistic. “They take offense to their wrong answers on tests and quizzes I hand back…. The students are offended if their tests are not perfect every single time,” he said.
Perfectionistic students have this idea engrained in their heads that a bad grade ties to being a failure rather than simply receiving a bad grade. Some advice offered from both Dalton and Sandmann was to tune into the material that’s being taught and absorb the information as best as students can. If students comprehend the material and can apply it, the grades will come as a result of understanding of the material.
High school guidance counselor Kaitlyn Richter said, “Society has set students up to care more about the grade rather than learning. Colleges care about the grades, honor roll is based on the grade, and class rank is determined by the grades you get. Students have no real option left, but want a high grade in class.”
Students also found perfectionistic pressures coming from outside of themselves. Freshman Maggie Haap said, “My parents stress me out about my grades. They want me to learn, but they pressure me a lot to be a good student and get good grades.” Haap also said she focuses on her grades far more than learning the material, even though she agrees that learning the material is just as important as the grade.
“I stress myself out with my grades. I focus on the grades more instead of the educational aspect, but I have gotten far better at managing both,” junior Madi Boeckman said. “I ask myself if this assignment is even worth stressing over, or is my stress pointless, and that has really helped me manage my stress levels.”
Senior Dominic Benintendi said he focuses on learning the material rather than worrying about his grades. “Learning is vital since you need to know the core concepts, especially since you will build off of those core concepts,” Benintendi said. “I hardly ever check my grades.… It just seems like mental gymnastics to me. I find it better to worry about education instead of constantly checking a grade that will definitely make you worry more.”
Some disagree with the culture of perfectionism and say that students should hold themselves to high expectations and stress pushes students to do better. Renee Jain, founder of an Anxiety relief program for children, said in an article for Psychology Today that “stress might not always be the enemy… Positive stress can strengthen the immune system, enhance memory and learning, and improve decision-making skills.”
Many children and young adults are developing perfectionistic behaviors. High school guidance counselor Alaina Way said “It is important to note, that it is good to have high expectations of oneself, as long as those expectations are realistic. Being perfect is not realistic, and since no one can achieve perfection, it can lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.” It is vital to instill in them that setting high standards for themselves is a positive action, but seeking perfection will result in them constantly worrying about their mistakes and will hinder their education. “We’re all human and we’re going to slip up, but as long as we learn from our mistakes, we can correct them” said high school counselor Matt Wehrman.
Executive director of the University of Pennsylvania Alison Malmon said in an interview with The Enquirer that “it is our job to equip [students] with the tools, to let people know that it’s not their fault, and that seeking help is a sign of strength and not weakness.”