While it’s not impossible for a child to be a perfectionist all on their own, perfectionism is almost always inherited, passed down from parent to child by way of the cultural climate in the home. “Perfectionists, experts now know, are made and not born, commonly at an early age,” says psychologist Hara Estroff-Marano. “They also know that perfectionism is. One reason:
Pressure on children to achieve is rampant, because parents now seek much of their status from the performance of their kids” (Marano, 2008)
Here are some of the main factors contributing to this wave of perfectionism in children:
Perfectionism in a parent
Anxious parents raise anxious kids, and perfectionist parents pass these traits down to their children just like a common cold. It’s rare to see perfectionism in a child that isn’t modeled by one or both parents. If you’re uptight, intolerant of other perspectives or other ways of doing things, anxious about details, afraid of others judging you, and hard on yoursel f when you don’t get the right result, you’re going to have children who emulate these same traits.
Parents breed perfectionism when they …
- Treat life like a competition
- Push a child to excel and expect them to be the best at everything they do
- Are constantly telling kids the “right” way to do things
- Are judgmental and critical of a child’s work
- Try to control and micro-manage their child’s activities
- Fret over small details
- Are afraid of being criticized or dwell compulsively on what others think
All of these things teach kids that failure isn’t an option, that things must unfold in a particular way, and that it’s a disaster if they don’t.
A greater emphasis on raising children
People are having fewer children and devoting far more time and attention to these children than they did in times past. While this isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, it means parents have a lot more of their own ego invested in their children. As a consequence parents inevitably apply more pressure and become less tolerant of a child’s failures. Kids aren’t allowed to be kids living for their own existence, they are vessels that parents pour all their hopes, aspirations, and unfulfilled dreams into. Far too many parents are trying to live through their children, pressuring kids to be everything they wish they could be.
Our hyper-competitive society
Capitalism encourages competition, and society seems to be growing more competitive by the day. This trend is likely to continue well into the future, as capitalism’s spoils continue to grow harder and harder to come by. (Capitalism has been a Ponzi scheme since its inception, as it is a system that funnels wealth and resources to the top, requiring perpetual growth in order to sustain itself, which simply isn’t possible in a world of finite resources.) Parents feel this anxiety and pass it down to kids, afraid that their children might lose out if they aren’t sitting at the top.
Greater social intolerance
In case you haven’t noticed, our society has been growing a lot more intolerant in recent decades. The amount of vitriol on TV has increased by at least twofold, and cancel campaigns have normal ized the despicable practice of crucifying others for their perceived mistakes or imperfections. The less wiggle room there is in society, the more we all feel a need to be perfect in everything we do. Kids are no exception to this rule. They pick up on the intolerance shown throughout society, and as demands continue to grow while the box we’re told to fit into shrinks and becomes more confining, it increases the internal pressure kids feel to be perfect and fit into this mold
The internet & social media
Social media can increase perfectionist strivings by presenting children with a litany of highly curated images portraying others as perfect people with flawless lives, increasing the internal pressure kids feel to keep up. Since we’re a lot more familiar with our own faults and insecurities than those that exist in others (since they, like we, are dutifully trying to hide these blemishes from the outside world), it can set a high standard while creating in children the belief that what they are isn’t good enough.