Parental expectations and perfectionism: A class discussion

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“Rising parental expectations and criticism are linked to an increase in perfectionism among college students, which can have damaging mental health consequences, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association” (Bentsen, 2022). The research cited is a two-study meta-analysis (Curran & Hill, 2022). With the original research article would be a bit much for Intro Psych students to read and comprehend, students in an upper division psych course might be able to get something out of it. For Intro Psych students, the APA press release should provide enough fodder for discussion.

In Intro Psych, after covering parenting styles in the developmental psych chapter, give students these instructions for completing a pre-discussion assignment:

Read “Rising parental expectation linked to perfectionism in college students.”

Describe the difference between self-oriented perfectionism, other-oriented perfectionism, and socially-oriented perfectionism. For each, give an example.

Describe the relationship between parental expectations on self-oriented and other-oriented perfectionism.

How have parental expectations changed since 1989?

In a face-to-face or online discussion, ask students to consider these questions:

In thinking about your own life and the lives of your friends and family members, have you seen where parental expectations contributed to a child’s need for perfection?

The research focused on parental expectations. Are there other important people in a child’s life whose expectations may contribute to the development of perfectionism? Explain.

In the reading, the lead author of the cited article noted that parents should not be to blame for having such high expectations because they are reacting to today’s social environment. Do you agree or disagree with that view? Explain.

The reading ends with the following paragraph. Do you, personally, believe that failure is simply part of living? Explain. In this course, are you more focused on learning or more focused on test scores? Explain.

Parents can help their children navigate societal pressures in a healthy way by teaching them that failure, or imperfection, is a normal and natural part of life, Curran said. “Focusing on learning and development, not test scores or social media, helps children develop healthy self-esteem, which doesn’t depend on others’ validation or external metrics,” he said.

Conclude the discussion by noting that throughout the course, we will continue to see examples of how our social and cultural experiences influence who we are.



Bentsen, T. (2022, March 31). Rising parental expectations linked to perfectionism in college students. American Psychological Association.

Curran, T., & Hill, A. P. (2022). Young people’s perceptions of their parents’ expectations and criticism are increasing over time: Implications for perfectionism. Psychological Bulletin.


About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.