A New Poll Shows Teens Push at Dangerous Pace to Be Perfect

Sept. 8, 2005 -- -- Teenagers Kaitlyn McKeon and Courtney Hexham are typical members of their generation -- both striving to be perfect.

For Hexham, 18, if you can't achieve perfection, why bother trying?

"The way I look at it, you have to put 110 percent into whatever you do, or what's the point in doing it?" said Hexham.

McKeon, 15, who's about to start her senior year in high school, worked hard to put herself on the fast track, so she could graduate in just three years instead of the typical four.

Despite being rewarding, McKeon admits that there are intense pressures that come along with achieving such success.

"There probably have been times that I've just been so overwhelmed by the stress," she said, "that you kind of want to just sit and cry or scream into a pillow for hours on end."

High Expectations

Like millions of others, Hexham is starting college this fall and on top of her part-time job, packing for school, family responsibilities, and trying to squeeze in time with her friends, she's also stressed about the little things, like her appearance.

"Sometimes I feel so pressured to look good," she said, "that I might try on two or three outfits before I leave for school."

It may seem insignificant to some, but for many teen girls, looks and social interaction account for one of the most stressful aspects of teen life.

"I experience a lot of tension and nerves and anxiety around friends in social situations," said Hexham.

McKeon says expectations placed on her both by others and herself are what she thinks stress her out.

In addition to her heavy school load -- which included summer homework -- McKeon is involved in school clubs and theater, all in addition to her chores at home.

"I always wanted to be the best and I always wanted to do my best," she said.

Is Everyone Stressed?

Just about all teenagers feel some level of stress, and a small percentage say stress makes them think about suicide. According to a new poll, 99 percent of teens say they feel at least some level of stress and 4 percent say that stress makes them think about suicide.

The poll, conducted by Seventeen magazine, made some startling discoveries about teens and stress, including the fact that about one-third of the teenage girls polled feel the need to be perfect.

They say the stress comes from pressures surrounding school work, money, standardized tests, getting into college, body image and just trying to juggle everything at once. It's led to what the survey calls "Generation Perfect."

Who's to Blame?

According to the poll, 92 percent of teens say the intense pressure they feel comes from their parents.

"Good grades … have always been very important to me," said McKeon. "My parents always -- not pressured me to get good grades, but expected good grades."

But, while parents can be the source of stress for some teens, they can also be a source of comfort.

"My parents are there to listen if I need to come to them with my worries or just have a shoulder to cry on," said Hexham.

How to Help Stressed Teens

Atoosa Rubenstein, editor in chief of Seventeen, offered these tips for parents who want to help their stressed-out teen:

Encourage Down Time: Tell your teen to turn off the computer, get in bed with a book or turn on some music and relax. Just 30 minutes a day can help.

Practice What You Preach: Kids take cues from their parents, so if they see mom and dad taking a break, they will know it's OK to relax once in awhile.