The Epidemic of Perfectionism


Stella Thrift, Staff Writer

For years, it’s been long debated whether or not we should reform the U.S education system. Standardized testing, a common practice across the country, has been less emphasized by colleges in recent years: Fewer and fewer colleges are requiring students to submit their SAT and ACT scores. Still, there seems to be a feeling of stress heavily abundant in students lately – possibly more than ever. 

In a survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, only 16 percent of students report that their stress levels have declined in the past year, while approximately twice as many say their stress levels have increased. 

Stress has increased in high school students. But why? 

The answer seems to lie in the culture of perfectionism. A study led by PhD students and Andrew P. Hill, a professor at York St. John University in York, England, researched the various ways perfectionism can influence students. Drawing from 36 studies, they found that doubts, concerns, and fears are characteristics of perfectionism that can take a toll even on the most talented students. 

Thomas Curran, a social and personality psychologist with a PhD at the University of Bath in Bath, England, analyzed data from 41,641 American, Canadian, and British college students from 164 samples who completed the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale – a test for generation changes in perfectionism – from the late 1980s to 2016. The study found that perfectionism in more recent generations of college students was significantly higher than that of earlier generations.

What can be done about this? The answer is simple: For teachers, it’s important to remind students that they are much more than their grades. Rather than punishing failure, the value of learning from mistakes should be emphasized. Hill urged schools and policymakers to curb fostering competition among young people to preserve good mental health. 

The ongoing struggle of stress caused by perfectionism in students is clearly prevalent. Still, there are ways around this, as long as schools and teachers alike are willing to listen to students and professionals.