It’s the start of a new school year. For healthy strivers—kids with big goals and high standards—this is a time of excitement, anticipating the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. For perfectionists—kids with impossible expectations and intense fear of failure—this is a time of high anxiety.
How can you help your adolescent or college-age child be a healthy striver rather than a destructive perfectionist?
Worry about an upcoming math test, anxiety about feeling pressed to try drugs, pressure to get better grades, fear of being harassed by a classmate; that all can add up to feeling a lot of stress if the emotions of worry, anxiety, pressure, and fear are left unmanaged.
High school can be a psychological battle field. Social challenges, getting involved in serious relationships for the first time, the pressure to succeed in school and in sports, the increasing amount of extra-curricular activities young adults are expected to undertake all add up and can lead to stress, self-doubt, interpersonal conflict, intense mood swings, and the feeling of being overwhelmed and even lost.
As therapists, it’s important to help our clients identify and understand where their anger is coming from so that they can feel more in control of their behavior. Teaching your client to tame the raw emotion of anger will help them channel and release their anger in more appropriate ways.
Behavior change that is consistent with personal values is the purpose of psychotherapy. As teens begin to identify what’s important to them and take steps to behave in ways that move toward those things, they will experience internal events that may be intense or challenging. These are things they’ve spent energy avoiding in the past, which have in turn steered them further away from their values.
Values clarification is a critical part of any psychotherapy session. It may be more challenging for some teens than others, to get in touch with what matters to them. For those who struggle, clinical psychologist Sheri Turrell, PhD, and social worker Mary Bell, MSW, suggest a number of options.