Extroverts and perfectionists: who are they?
When you consider that the average sixth grader might only have a five-year career plan and expects to get married as early as second grade, you would think that their view of reality is likely to be, shall we say, exaggerated.
But research released this month by University of New Hampshire Professor Anthony Greenwald and former colleagues, reveal the negative impact that our teens’ exaggeration about themselves, peer socialization, and personal relationships have on their likelihood of staying in school and getting involved in extracurricular activities.
While most teens struggle to get into a quality high school, some 75 percent of ninth-graders see themselves as having the potential to graduate high school and attend college.
In the study, 550 10th-graders who had done less than 60 hours of community service and 50 hours of athletic or academic participation reported feeling unrealistic as compared to 2,000 students who had done five to 15 hours of each. By 11th grade, students who have exaggerated their self-perception and who participated in non-positive activities nearly twice as much as students who had less exaggerated views exhibited twice as much negative behavior, but after comparing both groups, the effect is negligible.
The most surprising finding of the study was that adolescents who exaggerated their strengths and talents, what the researchers call Active Aggression, actually outperformed students who had not exaggerated their strengths.
Explaining the enduring effect of Adolescents’ exaggerated views of themselves, Prof. Greenwald explains, “Adolescents who overestimate their competence and strengths are not only more likely to engage in extracurricular activities, they’re more likely to report high levels of bullying.”
Miguel, a recent 17-year-old high school graduate, says he grew up very extroverted, playing organized sports, and participating in extracurricular activities. As a way to find direction in high school, Miguel wanted to commit to a day of volunteering. He began focusing on helping less fortunate people, taking a leadership role, and cultivating new friendships. Although he accomplished what he set out to do, he missed out on many other activities that he would normally have been good at.
“Even though I have service, I don’t know how to do some of these things,” he said. “Teaching people how to do them makes me feel really good. If I can teach someone to do these things, it’s a wonderful feeling.”
“Kids shouldn’t exaggerate themselves – it’s so detrimental to their sense of reality,” says Professor David Lassman, founding director of the Center for Research and Psychology at UNH. “We need to help teens in all their relationships to strengthen their use of language and their thinking skills in order to succeed in high school and beyond.”