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What You Need to Know About the Age of Perfection

What You Need to Know About the Age of Perfection

Candice Lapin explains our cultural fear of failure in her fascinating new book

An interview with Candice Lapin, author of Parenting in the Age of Perfection: A Modern Guide to Nurturing a Success Mindset, about how social media pressures our teens and amplifies their fear of failure.

We’ve heard about actress Lori Loughlin, among other celebrity parents, doctoring her daughter’s application for college. The story resonates, says author Candice Lapin, because we are living in what she calls the Age of Perfection, a time when society has become wildly afraid of imperfection, when parents and kids are succumbing to the pressure to hide flaws and meet absurdly higher standards. Lapin’s new book, Parenting in the Age of Perfection: A Modern Guide to Nurturing a Success Mindset, published in February, draws on Lapin’s scientific research as well as her own experiences as a life coach to explain patterns in our current culture, and how parents can help their kids reduce anxiety.

What is the Age of Perfection?

Each phase of technology has been called something new: the Information Age of Twitter feeds or the Experience Age of communicating through pictures on Instagram, to name a few. But I would argue we are now in an uber-curated Perfection Age, where you are no longer showing people your true self. An Instagram account is no longer the extension of a Facebook page with pictured memories, but rather it’s a distinctly curated, hyper-real version of who you are. Instead of posting the first photo taken, kids, teens, and adults feel pressure to stylize their experiences as if they are on a professional fashion shoot.

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Families, moms, and teens now feel pressure to take and post the perfect photo in the perfect outfit. They must write the perfect caption, hashtags, or comment. It is no longer enough to have your friends following you. Popularity is measured on a global scale. The concern for teens and kids is not to win homecoming princess or queen; they want to grow vast followings. In a world like this, kids, teens, and parents are under far more pressure to appear perfect.

When did the Age of Perfection start and what caused it?

There has been a 33 percent increase in perfectionism between 1989 and 2016, but I noticed a serious uptick in inquiries in my office around 2016. Parents were coming to me worried most about an increase in anxiety in students as young as first grade.

The fact that the world has become instant and on demand is the root cause.

Our growing reliance on Instagram as a relational platform as well as the advent of influencer as a profession has certainly changed dynamics for kids, teens, and even their parents. Industries like music, film, television, and books are so much more democratic, but artists and creators can access their audience immediately. But this access also means there is so much more pressure to stand out to their audience in a crowded market.

What are some examples of the Age of Perfection ?

Tiger parents! I think we have placed that style of parenting on a pedestal because going faster or pushing our kids seems to be the only answer to reaching success in this Insta-world. Also, Renata, Laura Dern’s character in Big Little Lies, is a great example of a mom that “overdoes” it. The moral of that story arc is that mom was absolutely wrong in her assessments of her daughter’s classmates.

Other examples are bulldozer parents on the sidelines of any sporting events and “stage parents,” like we have seen on the Netflix show, Dancing Queen.

We need to understand that while this protective instinct to insulate children is natural, it is one that needs to be kept in check, so kids learn to do for themselves. Part of developing maturity and resilience is getting the opportunity to face our obstacles and imperfections so we can exercise those valuable muscles!

What effect is the drive toward perfection having on kids?

I think children today are far more critical of themselves, more anxious, and far less willing to take risks than their predecessors because they fear the criticism and judgment of their peers and often their parents.

Because they can access their world so quickly, children have developed far more unrealistic expectations of themselves, which is so unfair.

What can we do to prevent the fear of failure from damaging our kids?

Decrease social media time. Create ground rules in the home around screen time.

Echo the message that humans are not perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. You need to promote compassion and patience.

Encourage your children not just to share good things, but to tell you what didn’t go so well. Parents and adults should also share something that didn’t go perfectly well to show their kids they are human, too.

Positive thinking and compassion are muscles, so exercise them. If you have a child that tends to run negative, spin the negativity into a positive thinking—and teach her how to instinctively think positively.

Make a list of things that went really well. If you have a nightly ritual around reading or winding down, I would add this. Just like working out, you might not see the benefits right away, but give it a week or even a month. After a month, assess the list and have your child begin to write down a different aspect of himself that he likes.

Reframe mistakes as learning experiences. Now that your child is thinking positively, it will be a little easier to help her understand that mistakes, failures, and missteps are part of life.

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Shana Liebman


Shana Liebman is the features editor of NYMP. She’s a writer and editor who has worked for magazines including New York MagazineSalon, and Travel & Leisure—and she is the mom of two energetic little boys.

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