The Comparison Game

In the past few months of my therapy practice, I have seen a rise in young girls struggling with perfectionism, not feeling like enough, not feeling like they fit in, and low self-confidence/self-esteem. While there are certainly other factors that play into this, one glaring cause is comparing to their peers. Just this week I met with several such young ladies who are struggling and in comparison to their peers, they feel less than. It is heartbreaking as a therapist, and I can only imagine as a parent, to hear young girls (or boys) de-value themselves.

What I am seeing in my office is, I believe, indicative of what many young girls and young men are facing today. It seems as though it is no longer enough to get a 4.0 GPA, but one must achieve higher than that and participate in various sports or extracurricular activities to get ahead or even feel like they are in the race at all. This results in not only mental health struggles, but can even begin to affect one physically including trouble sleeping, not eating, or not eating adequately, etc. In order to best help these young people see their value and worth, it is imperative that they begin to see themselves outside of their achievements.

As a therapist, I have the unique role of working with these young people to begin to see their value and worth in who they are without the grades, sports, or other activities. However, much of the real work begins at home. Parents have a crucial role in helping their children understand these values. Some practical tips for parents may include:

*Place value on your child as a whole person, not on their achievements. This may look like recognizing noble characteristics rather than emphasizing grades. While grades are valuable, a child may get the perception that grades make them valuable. Encourage your child in their gifts or character traits such as loving, kind, generous, patient, empathetic, etc. Praising them for something outside of academic or other achievements will allow them to see they are more than what they achieve.

*Have realistic expectations and help set realistic goals. Perfection is something that can never be achieved. Being mindful of the language used and being clear with your child can help them to understand your expectations and set realistic ones for themselves. It is important to understand that ability does not equal unrealistic expectations (especially due to what may be happening emotionally or in their lives).

*Provide an environment that is nurturing and allows freedom to make mistakes. Allowing for open dialogue will help your child to see they can come to you with mistakes, questions, or times they mess up. Providing unconditional love in those conversations will create space for your child to feel safe, listened to and heard. Validating feelings (“I understand you feel…”) is of the utmost importance.

*Be supportive, rather than critical. Being mindful of verbiage in conversations with your child or privately with your spouse is important to convey support rather than constant criticism.

*Allow for downtime. With all the pressure that many young people feel, it is easy to continue to pile on activities. Create space for your child to spend time with friends and family, play games, get outside, and move, and take a breath from the fast pace of life.

While these are just a few tips for parents, ultimately it is understanding one’s value in light of who God created him/her to be that is most significant. God is never changing, always consistent, always loving, and always ready with open arms. Young people need to understand that their value isn’t based on anything other than the fact that God created them in His image. Understanding and accepting that they are valued and loved just for being created is powerful and often challenging to accept. However, pointing to Scripture, time in prayer, and with other believers (maybe some Christ-centered therapy) will hopefully begin to transform these young minds into understanding who they are and whose they are.

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