How the pressure to be perfect affects kids, and what parents can do about it

Photo: Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports is the preeminent website for parents of young athletes, offering resources, product suggestions, news and advice from the world’s most notable athletes, coaches, youth sports experts and organizations. Founded by sports broadcast veterans Alex Flanagan and Asia Mape, the site seeks to help parents find balance, gain an edge and stay sane in the increasingly competitive world of youth sports.  


Adolescent depression, suicide, and anxiety are increasing at alarming rates. Recent studies indicate that as many as one in five teens suffers from clinical depression. As parents, we all want to see our kids succeed in school, in sports, and in life. But sometimes well-intentioned parents, on top of the intensity of comparing themselves to the unreal expectations and messages they get from social media, have created a pressure cooker for many kids. If they aren’t the star athlete, or don’t have a 4.5 GPA, they begin to feel that they are somehow less than. These unrealistic expectations are creating over-scheduled, depressed, and anxiety riddled young adults.

I recently attended a great talk by Peak Performance Coach Kirsten Jones and adolescence expert, Dr. Dolly Klock, for parents seeking ways to help their teenage daughters navigate these high stake issues and find a pathway to a more balanced, healthy and happy life.


1. Don’t over- or under-react to their moods

There are a lot of technical terms used to describe what’s happening to the 100 billion brain cells in the average teen brain: pruning, myelination, synapses, remodeling … in layman’s terms, they are moody and they will make poor decisions. So as parents, you can step back and understand that a lot of what’s happening is normal, expected, and something they can’t control, then you can approach these tough teenage times with more empathy and understanding and less anxiety and stress, which will help all parties involved.

2. Promote self care

I love this new buzz phrase that has become a mantra now for the kids. If we can teach our teenage girls self care at this age, think how much better off they will be for the rest of their lives. It’s about knowing and recognizing when your cup is getting too full and then doing something to empty it before it causes damage either emotionally or physically. The biggest culprit is not getting enough sleep. This one is HUGE. It affects their moods, their ability to perform on the playing field and in the classroom, as well as their health. Parents need to advocate and take whatever steps necessary to ensure their teenagers are getting 8-10 hours of sleep each night. Other obvious self-care remedies include cutting back on the screens, eating well, meditation/mindfulness and downtime.

3. Name it to tame it

High-achieving kids have a lot of pressure and stress and it can manifest itself differently. Anxiety is a common complaint in teens, but unlike stress, where you know what’s worrying you, anxiety can be hard to define and difficult to pinpoint the origin. In fact, it’s more about how you react to it, then the actual anxiety itself. You start to feel anxious about feeling anxious. In Dr. Lisa Damour’s new book Under Pressure, she discusses the concept of ‘name it, to tame it’. Most importantly, make sure your kids know that it’s OK to feel anxious. Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress and it’s the body’s fight or flight response; it’s not a bad thing. Then, they can start to recognize it and name it (I’m feeling anxious). Then, help them to try to understand the source. This will help them to not overreact and not allow it to get out of control. By naming it, they are taming it. If anxiety seems to be a consistent issue for your child, or is getting in the way of their usual functioning, seek the help of their physician or a mental health professional.

4. Disengage from the ‘stress Olympics’

Author Rachel Simmons refers to this in her new book, Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives. Basically, kids today are constantly trying to one-up each other with their stressful lives; how many practices they have, how many hours they studied and how little they have slept. Talk to your kids about NOT wearing this badge of dishonor of overburdening themselves; it promotes stress and anxiety and makes it seem like something you should seek. Girls need to declare self care and balance as the new ‘in’ phrases.

5. Is it your dream or their dream?

Consistently check in with your child to make sure whatever goal they are working towards — athletic or academic — is their dream and not yours. It’s a reality check that a lot of parents would fail and all too often becomes a heavy burden to bear for a child. They want to please us and they will do it at the expense of their mental health.

Stop Expecting Your Child To Play Up To Your Own Expectations

6. Sucks/Handle.

Two simple words to help you support your teen. They will often come to you with what feels like the worst thing in the world, claiming the roof is falling down. Your job as a parent, is to stay calm, acknowledge and identify what it is that “really SUCKS.” Then support them – yes, very different than doing it yourself – empowering them to HANDLE it themselves and then supporting them.

7. Are you raising a lioness in a zoo or in the wild?

Just because we can do it, doesn’t mean we should. Our No. 1 job as parents is to teach our girls to survive in the wild (AKA out there in the real world). If we are constantly doing things for them, we are denying them the skills they need to develop for when they get out of our homes (aka The Zoo) and are released to the wild. It can feel counterintuitive, but if you don’t stop doing everything for them, you are setting them up for failure, heartache, and stress. We MUST teach them to be resilient, strong and to fend for themselves!

8. Be aware of the female athlete triad

This syndrome has been getting more attention as of late, and it affects girls who play sports. It occurs when an athlete, typically female, is consuming less energy (food) than she is expending (sports) and it can have dangerous and long lasting health consequences.  The triad is disordered eating, that can often lead to anorexia, missed or abnormal menstrual periods and Osteopenia, which is a decrease in the amount of calcium and phosphorus in the bone. This can cause bones to be weak and brittle and increases the risk for broken bones. Often parents have no idea this is occurring until after it’s become a serious health problem. The good news is that more and more coaches are being trained to be aware of the signs. Parents must also be heeding the warning signs for early prevention.

9. Breathe

It’s the No. 1 way to reduce stress. It’s free and can be done ANYWHERE. If kids can learn to stop and take five deep breaths consistently throughout the day or when they are feeling anxious or stressed it will be a life long skill that will help with anxiety, depression, energy, metabolism, and their overall health.  This has been scientifically proven.

A 3-Minute Exercise To Ease Anxiety Before A Game Or Practice

To learn more about the PRESSURE TO BE PERFECT or if you are a sports club or school in Southern California and would be interested in bringing this program to your parents or athletes, please reach out to Kirsten Jones or  Dr. Dolly Klock .

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