How does the

need to achieve

affect teens?

Being a teenager can be tough. Being a teenager in Hinsdale can be especially challenging, said Megan Cannon, licensed clinical social worker and owner of Back to Balance Counseling.

"There's been a steady shift into this idea of perfectionism" said Cannon, one of five counselors offering help at the Hinsdale clinic. Cannon said she and her fellow therapists too often see young people who believe they need to take every Advanced Placement class, earn nothing but straight As and excel in every sport or extracurricular activity in which they choose to participate. Even things that should be fun become competitions and sources of anxiety, Cannon said.

This need to always be the best often leads to what Cannon calls "the comparison trap," defined as constantly comparing oneself to friends, classmates and teammates. The result can be feelings of failure at coming in anywhere but the top.

"They've really narrowed their own opportunity for growth and resiliency to develop," Cannon said.

Rather than pursue the things they enjoy or the school they want to go to, Cannon said teens living in this constant state of competition may strive to go to a school that others believe is best or to which another student was accepted.

A therapist who has worked in several parts of the Chicagoland area, Cannon said the problem is especially prevalent in Hinsdale.

"I see it so much more here," she said.

Cannon, who opened Back to Balance in 2016. A graduate of Aurora University with a master's in social work, she worked in the public school system prior to entering private practice. But it was in seeking therapy for herself that Cannon discovered the need for the type of help offered at Back to Balance.

She said her practice takes a solution-focused, collaborative approach to helping clients. Each therapy session should leave the client feeling empowered by tools they can apply to their lives. While things like meditation or taking a walk can provide temporary relief for overstressed teens, Cannon said the tools taught at Back to Balance provide long-lasting, even lifelong help.

"We get to the root of the problem," she said.

Cannon said teens who hold themselves to the standards of perfectionism become unable to tolerate things like changes in schedules or minor setbacks, both of which are inevitable.

Along with physical symptoms such as stomach pain, body aches, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety and depression, another consequence of "the comparison trap" is a lack of time for family, friends and just having fun, all of which are important in a teenager's life, Cannon said.

She encourages parents to be on the lookout for signs that their teen might be suffering the effects of striving to be too perfect. Parents should pay attention to how their teens talks about themselves and whether they place more attention on others' achievements rather than their own.

"That lets me know that that teenager's focus is disproportionately spent on other people," she said.

Therapy helps teens become aware of the way they talk to themselves and think about themselves.

"It opens up the doors to self-compassion," Cannon said.

- by Sandy Illian Bosch

Author Bio

Sandy Illian Bosch is a contributing writer to The Hinsdalean