In search of perfection
In pushing our daughters to achieve higher goals, are we driving them towards unhappiness, asks ALANA KIRK-GILLHAM
AS PARENTS, it is always a fine balance between guiding our children to reach their full potential, and pushing them over the edge of their capabilities. The term “helicopter” parent came into prominence a few years back to describe the “hovering” tendencies of some super-achieving mums over their child’s every move and step.
But in our desire to make sure our children – and in particular our daughters – strive to reach the ceilings we fought to be shattered, have we forced them into an unrealistic realm of perfection that is causing increasing numbers to suffer from depression, eating disorders and social dysfunction?
According to a plethora of books to hit the best-selling market in recent years, the answer is yes.
For several years, US academics have been warning of the detrimental impact overachieving is having on teenage girls. Too much focus on academic accomplishment and social success has led to a failure at other equally important female experiences, such as their psychological and emotional health, and, importantly, their sense of self-knowledge and self-expression.
In the Triple Bind, American academic Stephen Hinshaw believes that social expectations, cultural trends and conflicting messages might be putting teen girls at a higher risk of depression and other problems. And it seems the same problems are happening in Ireland.
MyMind, a counselling service based in Dublin, has noticed that about 70 per cent of the teenagers and young adults they see are girls.
Krystian Fikert, chief executive and founder of MyMind, has witnessed the increase in young girls seeking therapy. “Many are presenting problems relating to bulimia, anorexia, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and relationship issues.” So why are girls, who seemingly have more than ever before, so miserable?
In the best-selling book, The Curse of the Good Girl, Rachel Simmons argues that modern upbringing is pressuring girls to embrace a polite, modest, selfless version of themselves that sharply curtails their power and potential. It also makes their expectations unobtainable.
It seems we are breeding a generation of pleasers, where politeness and good behaviour is drilled in to them to such an extent that their default mode is non-confrontational.
This is fine until they want to get a job, ask for a pay rise and get their point of view across. They are not being brought up to embrace failure and, as such, fear its risk and avoid situations that might result in not succeeding.
A top girls’ school in the UK sees this as such a problem it has introduced a Failure Week to teach students to embrace risk, build resilience and learn from their mistakes. In an effort to show the girls (and importantly, their parents) that it is not only perfectly acceptable, but normal, not to succeed all the time, Wimbledon High School is helping girls and their families address their academic and social pressures.
It is a concept openly admired by successful business leaders and innovators (Sir James Dyson made 5,126 prototypes of his famous vacuum cleaner that failed before he found success with the 5,127th and claims he learnt from every one). So why do we expect such perfection from our daughters?
MyMind’s Krystian Fikert explains, “Girls are generally under serious pressure to perform well academically, as that influences their future career. The way they look is another important factor. Stress related to competition regarding their physical aspect is pretty high. If the balance between different areas of their lives is unstable, that may lead to psychological problems.”