The Pitfalls of Achievement Culture for Teenage Girls

The Pitfalls of Achievement Culture for Teenage Girls

Did you see the Barbie movie? If you haven’t, I’m sure you’ve heard a good bit about it. And from a marketing perspective it was impossible to ignore! 

The movie had a great deal going for it, including a positive message to empower women, however, it could also be said that Barbie—throughout time, actually—has contributed to what has been defined as “achievement culture.” 

An interview between Julie Faulstich, blogger @talkingoutschool, and Dr Beth Cooper Benjamin, a Harvard-educated adolescent development scholar, tackled this subject in “Combating Achievement Culture” and “Julie & Beth and Barbie & Ken.” 

In a world where success is often measured by accolades, grades, and external validation, achievement culture has permeated every facet of our lives. Teenage girls, in particular, find themselves caught in the crossfire of societal expectations, peer pressure, and the pursuit of perfection. While setting high goals and striving for excellence can be commendable, there are numerous issues associated with this achievement-centric culture that we must address, as it can have lasting negative effects on the mental and emotional well-being of young girls.

  • Unrealistic Expectations

One of the major issues with achievement culture for teen girls is the burden of unrealistic expectations. They are bombarded with images of perfection through social media, influencers, and even their own family and friends. This constant comparison to unattainable standards can lead to feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. Teen girls may feel pressured to achieve academically, look a certain way, and excel in extracurricular activities, all while maintaining an active social life.

  • Mental Health Toll

The relentless pursuit of success and perfection can take a severe toll on one’s mental health. Anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues are on the rise among teen girls. The pressure to excel in every aspect of their lives can leave them feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. This can lead to burnout and long-term mental health challenges, which often go unnoticed until they reach a critical point.

  • Limited Self-Exploration

Achievement culture often emphasizes specific paths to success, such as excelling in academics, sports, or arts. While these pursuits are undoubtedly valuable, they can limit a teenage girl's ability to explore her true interests and passions. The pressure to conform to societal standards can deter them from discovering their unique talents and passions, preventing personal growth and self-discovery.

  • Neglected Well-being

In the quest for achievement, teenage girls may neglect their physical and emotional well-being. Late-night study sessions, excessive extracurricular commitments, and a lack of sleep can lead to physical health issues. Moreover, emotional well-being is often sidelined as girls are encouraged to prioritize achievements over self-care and mental health.

  • Perfectionism and Fear of Failure

Achievement culture can foster an unhealthy sense of perfectionism, where any mistake or setback is seen as a personal failure. Teenage girls may become afraid to take risks or try new things for fear of not meeting expectations. This fear of failure can hinder personal growth and development, preventing them from taking chances and exploring new opportunities.

  • Unhealthy Competition

The culture of achievement can sometimes breed unhealthy competition among teenage girls. Instead of supporting and uplifting each other, they may become overly competitive, comparing their achievements and seeking validation through one-upmanship. This can lead to strained friendships and a lack of emotional support during critical teenage years. 

  • Narrow Definition of Success

Achievement culture often promotes a narrow definition of success, focusing primarily on academic and professional accomplishments. This narrow focus can lead to a lack of recognition for other valuable life skills, such as empathy, resilience, and creativity. Teenage girls may feel devalued if they don't fit into this predetermined mold of success.

  • Impact on Future Career Choices

The pressure to excel in academics and extracurricular activities can also influence the career choices of teenage girls. They may choose paths that promise prestige and financial success over careers that align with their true interests and passions. This can lead to career dissatisfaction and a lack of fulfillment in adulthood.

Achievement culture, while well-intentioned, poses significant challenges for teenage girls. The pressure to conform to unrealistic expectations, the toll on mental health, and the limitation of self-exploration are just a few of the issues that need to be addressed. Thankfully, The sisterhood of an all-girls school like Merion Mercy Academy can combat these negative effects by fostering a supportive and empowering environment that encourages students to pursue their interests and passions without the constant pressure of conforming to external expectations. 

Here at Merion Mercy Academy…

  • We emphasize collaboration over competition

  • We tailor education to individual needs and learning styles.

  • We focus on holistic development

  • Big Sisters guide and support younger students and provide a sense of belonging

  • We foster open communication

  • We teach students to critically analyze media portrayals of success and achievement

  • We value diverse voices and perspectives

  • We incorporate well-being into the curriculum and encourage students to set realistic goals and expectations.

Have you personally seen the impact of achievement culture? Do you have advice on how to combat it? Share in the comments below!