By Tracy-Leigh Kinsey
Savannah wakes up at the crack of dawn. She spends an hour getting dressed, doing her hair and making sure she looks just right for school. She returns to the mirror at least three times to check that her skirt is the right length, her hair is perfect and that spot on her chin is properly covered with concealer. She rushes out the door with her school bag on her shoulder, her netball kit under one arm and her science project balanced in the other hand. Savannah spends a busy morning at school followed by an afternoon of netball practice, dance class and rehearsals for the school play. When she gets home that evening, she gobbles down a quick supper and then spends a few hours doing homework and studying for tomorrow’s math test before flopping into bed, shattered. The next morning Savannah wakes up exhausted at the thought that today it starts all over again.
Does Savannah’s routine sound familiar? The truth is that many teens today are feeling worn out and run down by pressure to be good at everything. It seems that there is a common false belief that young people are supposed to be perfect. They feel like they need to look perfect, be skinny, have silky hair, be cool, do well at school, be sporty, be funny, have lots of friends, have a boyfriend, and the list goes on and on and on.
Luckily the world is starting to stand up and take note and individuals are speaking out about the dangers of such high expectations. Many young celebs have recently spoken out against the pressure of perfection. Among the stars who are taking a stand are Katy Perry, Ariana Grande, Beyonce Knowles and Demi Lovato.
The dangers of chasing perfection
Perfection is a fairytale. There really is no such thing as perfection. It is our differences and small imperfection that make us unique and interesting. We see movies, photographs and read books all the time about beautiful, successful, perfect people and we forget that what we are seeing is not real but a fantasy that has been scripted and photoshopped into perfection.
We know that if pressure builds up in a closed space with no release it eventually causes an explosion. Human beings work exactly the same way. Unless we find an outlet or release valve for the building pressure, we too can explode. When we are pushed to reach unachievable and unrealistic standards, two things can happen:
- The pressure can lead to huge amounts of stress causing depression, eating disorders, self harm and other similar problems.
- The person involved can feel like they are not good enough and give up trying completely. They believe that it is better to give up than to try and fail.
Finding your release valve
It is essential to let off steam so that you never get to that exploding point. The best way to deal with the pressure is to create balance in your life. You need to learn and grow but you also need to spend time with your family and friends; you need to exercise; you need lots of sleep; you need to have fun; and you need alone-time too.
So if you are working non-stop, maybe it’s time to take a step back and have a little fun. Find a hobby. Choose something that you love (preferably something that isn’t competitive) and set aside time every week to do that one thing. It could be painting, reading, swimming or even something as simple as listening to music or taking a long walk. After just a little time alone with no pressure, no cellphone, no competition and no stress, you will be able to see things a whole lot clearer and will have more energy to deal with the day-to-day demands of life.
So does this mean that we we should sit back, avoid hard work and make no effort to achieve great things? Absolutely not! It’s important to have dreams and goals. It’s great to try new things and to reach for the stars. The secret is to remember that you don’t have to be perfect at everything you try. You will make mistakes, you will stumble and once in a while you will fall. We learn by making mistakes. Some call it the University of Life.
When you were a baby learning to walk, you didn’t just stand up one day and walk 20 steps. You tried over and over again. Falling, losing your balance and trying again. The same rule applies for the rest of your life. If you fall, get up, dust yourself off, cut yourself a bit of slack and try again.
Always bear in mind, you are not the mistake and mistakes can be fixed. As long as you are learning from them, mistakes are a powerful tool for achieving your dreams.
When parents expect too much
Being a teen can be a challenging time. Teenagers often feel their parents expect them to be perfect. This is almost always untrue. Although it might be hard to believe, a parent’s love is not conditional. Try to remember that your parents love you no matter what and just want what’s best for you. They want to spur you on to achieve your full potential and may not realise how stressed you are by all the pressure.
If you are in a situation where you feel that your parents expect too much from you, sit down and talk to them. Explain how you are feeling. Tell them what is worrying you. Explain how much pressure you are under and let them know that you feel like their love is conditional. If you can’t talk to them, write them a letter. Don’t point fingers or get angry. Just speak from your heart about how you feel. Your parents want you to be happy and will listen to what you have to say.
Perhaps the most valuable advice for teens feeling the mounting pressure of life is to relax. Sit down, take a deep breath and know that it is not your job to be faultless, unbeaten and perfect. Your job at this age is to enjoy being a teenager. You have many, many experiences to look forward to. Some will be good and some will be bad. You will achieve successes and you will make mistakes. You will fall in love and out of love and, if you choose to, you can have a lot of fun along the way. You probably won’t achieve your dreams overnight. It will take time. So go slowly, do your best, and most importantly, be kind to yourself. You deserve it.