Young people are typically ambitious, bright and hard-working. With the high paced growth in technology and social networking, they have even managed to achieve a broad network of friends. Yet no matter how well-adjusted they can appear in their virtual social lives, findings suggest that youngsters are increasingly likely to seek support for mental health issues, as well as academic ones.
This trend has been observed worldwide, college students are trying harder than ever to be perfectionists — and social media may be to blame. A study of Canadian, British and American students found that today’s college graduates feel greater societal pressure to be perfect than previous generations.
One reason could be pressure stemming from popular social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, where the goal is to portray a perfect public image. This leads to social perfectionism — defined as a perceived expectation from others — and is considered the most debilitating form of perfectionism.
Young adults feel they must live up to certain standards based on what they see on social media, which, according to the study, “can intensify one’s own body image concerns and sense of social alienation.” Across the globe, clinicians have reported high levels of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts among young people.
One possible reason researchers have come up with is that, across the world, the present generation of youngsters are the first ones to grow up in a society based on the principles of neoliberalism. Over the last 50 years, communal interest and civic responsibility have been progressively eroded, replaced by a focus on self-interest and competition in a supposedly free and open marketplace.
In this new market-based society, young people are evaluated in a host of new ways. Social media, school and university testing and job performance assessments mean young people can be sifted, sorted and ranked by peers, teachers and employers. If an individual is ranked poorly, the logic of our market-based society dictates that they are less deserving – than their inferiority reflects some personal weakness or flaw.
According to leading psychologists, Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett; one of the ways in which young individuals are acting differently to their older peers is by showing a greater tendency toward perfectionism. Perfectionism in a broader perspective is an irrational desire for flawlessness, combined with harsh self-criticism.
Perfectionists need to be told that they have achieved the best possible outcomes, whether that’s through scores and metrics, or other peoples’ approval. When this need is not met, they experience psychological turmoil, because they equate mistakes and failure to inner weakness and unworthiness.
In a world where performance, status and image define a person’s usefulness and value, irrational ideas of the perfect self have also become desirable. Several social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and snapchat provide a platform to share the perfect version of oneself and lifestyle with others.
The prevalent culture Preys on insecurities and amplifies imperfection, compelling young individuals to focus on their personal deficiencies. This results in young people thinking incessantly about how should they behave, how should they look (appearance) or what should they own. These factors keep them running after perfecting their selves and their lives. There is substantial evidence which indicates that perfectionism is associated with depression, anorexia nervosa, suicide ideation and early death. Young individual’s material, physical and metal well being are threatened by this hidden epidemic of perfectionism.
It is time that organisations such as schools colleges and universities, along with the politicians and civil servants, who actually help in creating the frame work in which these institutions function, need to take a crucial step towards safeguarding the welfare of young individuals. These institutions need to resist the marketised forms of competition. They should teach the importance of compassion over competition.