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How to Combat the Pressures of Student Perfectionism

The experiences of our childhood years comprise a large amount of our eventual identity. A majority of our conscious time, as children, is spent focusing on how to best navigate the educational requirements imposed upon us by our parents and our culture. Children spend more time, per day, in formal schooling than with engaging in any other, singular, endeavor.

Averages indicate that more than six hours, per week day, are spent on the school grounds. Add in the time utilized for getting ready to attend and for getting back home, and we are at eight hours. Then, add in homework, and we find that at least nine hours, per week day, are spent in devotion to schooling.

After subtracting time necessary to eat; tend to hygiene; and complete household chores; the typical student is left with only a precious few hours of waking time to possibly engage in recreation or socialization. For students who are involved in extracurricular activities after school or on the weekends, perform yet another subtraction of utilizable leisure time.

In sum, our young students are often engaged in a demand of workload which is similar to the adult requirement of working a full-time job. This pattern of behavior may be fine for one who has already established an adulthood as a productive member of society, but the adolescent has another yet another duty to attend to. He or she is tasked with simultaneously developing a self-identity.

As ideas of self-conception are typically set in place before reaching young adulthood, the following ideas are best explored – and integrated – by parents of the gifted child. On our quest to provide our child with the best start in life, it is paramount that we endow them with sound instruction in the business of living. As many geniuses have already asserted, life is more than school.

A Student Is Not His/Her Grade

The concept of letter grades has done much to label our students over the years. It is the major marker for defining failure or success, and it is the first information that students report when asked about how school is going. Students with high grades are awarded with certificates, ceremonies, and even monetary compensation by well-meaning family members.

For a gifted student, earning top marks in a class tends to come fairly easily. It is inevitable, however, that something will occur which threatens to topple that tower of A’s. It could be that an unexpected event takes place, keeping the gifted student from completing an assignment on time. It could be that a student encounters a professor with a chip on the shoulder, and who happens to be in charge of grading a subjective work. It could just be that the gifted student finally runs into a topic which doesn’t make as much sense in his or her mind.

A student who is so accustomed to being associated with high marks can feel immense pressure to do whatever it takes to continue to receive them. The letter grade can become a part of his or her identity, as much as does being described as tall, creative, or kind. Receiving an “A” becomes equivalent to the very concept of being smart, and receiving anything less can throw the gifted student into an identity-related anxiety.

To combat this trend, some parents will opt for putting their students into programs which forego the assignment of grades, all together. While this tactic can provide a good basis for ensuring that your gifted child understands that letter grades are imperfect measures – and as delivered by imperfect people – it is unlikely that a student can avoid this system, indefinitely.

Most colleges have not evolved toward doing away with the letter system, either for admittance or continuance. Work place politics, as well, are prone to include a performance report in which the highest marks are purposefully not given. In preparing your gifted child for facing the harsh reality of not being assigned top scores, indefinitely, ensure that they learn, early on, that such marks are not always an accurate measure of contribution or ability.

Quantity Does Not Equal Quality

There has been a recent media focus on the concept of “tiger” parenting. This concept has roots in the Eastern practice of parents to involve their children in multiple academic and cultural endeavors, sometimes beginning in infancy. The expectation is that demanding so much from students will train them to become successful, high-achieving, adults.

Through a mix of positive and negative feedback – much like how our grading system operates – students are pushed to their limits of ability. The student’s own passions and interests are considered irrelevant, as the agenda of the surrounding culture is deemed paramount.

Parenting in the Western culture can mimic this trend. We feel pressured to involve our gifted students in simultaneous areas of sports, arts, academics, and school politics. Parents will gather and discuss how busy they are, running their children to various events and meetings, as though it is a mark of successful parenting to push our children into exploring all that life has to offer before the age of 10.

In both cases of parental push, the long-term feedback in regard to student adjustment does not look hopeful. Family time, self-care, and finances all take a hit when our focus is on exposing our children to this smorgasbord of experience. And, try as we might to impose it, subjective well-being does not arise from these types of excessive endeavors.

Studies have shown that the students of “tiger” parents suffer from more depression, anger, and anxiety than the average population. They also struggle with developing social skills, and have difficulty with properly channeling their emotions.

For parents who have been keeping up with the data on difficulties which exist for gifted children, in general, this list of mental health problems should sound familiar. Gifted children are already prone to suffer from challenges related to these areas. Adding the additional stress which arises from over-committing them can be a recipe for disaster.