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Perfectionist parents and their always-lacking kids

By Vanessa Van Petten, Special to CNN
In a society obsessed with flawlessness, parents and their children are the most vulnerable to the perfection infection.
In a society obsessed with flawlessness, parents and their children are the most vulnerable to the perfection infection.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The phrase "I want to be perfect" was searched 14,800 times on Google this month
  • Parents and their children are the most vulnerable to the perfection infection
  • A parent's perfectionist attitude sets children up for a lifetime of inadequacy
  • Parents with natural imperfections can teach their children to learn from mistakes
RELATED TOPICS
  • Family
  • Parenting
  • Teenagers

Editor's note: Vanessa Van Petten is an author who writes about parenting and adolescents on the blog RadicalParenting.com. Her next book, "Do I Get My Allowance Before or After I'm Grounded?" comes out in September.

(CNN) -- The phrase "I want to be perfect" was searched 14,800 times on Google this month. The Internet, with its slew of self-help articles and downloadable webinars, has become a beacon for the insecure who are desperate to attain perfection.

Yet as our society becomes more obsessed with the idea of flawlessness, parents and their children are the most vulnerable to the perfection infection.

We read the abundant literature available on helicopter parents -- moms and dads who, often in the name of perfection, hover over their children, making sure they always do what they "should" be doing.

For many parents, the feelings of inadequacy and the pursuit of flawlessness mix into a terrible combination. This creates an endless loop of new but unfulfilling accomplishments, because perfection is impossible to permanently achieve.

Parents may suffer when adopting the perfection mindset, but children also bear this burden.

Shamima, 17, explains what many teenagers believe: "If we make a mistake, it will lower people's impressions of us, and that makes us pathetic."

A parent's perfectionist attitude also sets up children for a lifetime of inadequacy.

Shamima adds, "Teens are always aware that other students in their school have stronger abilities than themselves. When they receive their grades, there is a heavy shadow of remorse. Inside, they think their parents are yearning for their child to only be the best."

Unhealthy competition is a major side effect of the parental perfection infection.

Instead of being able to see friends' accomplishments as inspirational or positive, Shamima shares that her successful friends "are like mountains that cast shadows over their meeker peers, and most teenagers are demoralized and feel as though they are worthless, useless and low in comparison."

This tragic sentiment is shared by many teens who feel they cannot be happy for friends because their own parents expect superior accomplishments.

"Tiger mom" Amy Chua is a vocal advocate of raising children guided by unreasonably high expectations.

In her Wall Street Journal article, Chua says, "Chinese parents demand perfect grades because they believe that their child can get them."

Some parents and teens are fighting this attitude.

Krithika Varagur, 16-year-old founder of the Youth Literacy Fund, says she believes parents who reject Chua's advice are not "dooming their kids to failure, or worse, mediocrity. You can have a relaxed lifestyle and family dynamic and achieve stellar high school success."

She also shared that after crying over an A- grade, her parents were the ones to tell her to let it go.

The question that teens want parents to answer is: How can we embrace imperfection?

Most important, perfectionists cannot enjoy their success because they only think they could have been done better. This leads children to conceal mistakes in support of a perfect image.

Parents with natural imperfections can teach their children to embrace mistakes and benefit from them.

This means talking about and reviewing failures as much as successes, rewarding kids when they try to learn from mistakes and taking the stigma out of disappointments.

Nonversations: When talking to your teen is one-sided

Gema, 19, says it best: "I have yet to see the magic parental formula, possibly because there is no perfect human to begin with."

Imperfection can sometimes lead to growth, relief and wonderfully imperfect kids.

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