By Dr. Tori Cordiano, Ph.D.
Dear Your Teen
My 14 year-old daughter is a straight A student. She is also a musician and athlete. She works very hard and does very well at everything, but there is always someone a little bit better who receives the trophies, awards and attention. In her case, it’s often a friend. So she feels that she has to act happy for others when she is really crushed inside. How can I get her to recognize and be proud of her own amazing accomplishments without comparing herself to others?
EXPERT | Tori Cordiano
Your daughter sounds like an incredibly hard-working teenager. What she is experiencing—struggling with mixed emotions about the success of others—is universally challenging across the lifespan. Learning to manage this discomfort at a younger age allows for adolescents to reach higher levels of success in their chosen activities, and to feel better about themselves and others along the way.
Dealing with Jealousy in Teens
First, it may help to normalize this emotional experience. It is understandable and normal for your daughter to feel the sting of jealousy when a peer, especially a friend, reaches a high level of success in a shared activity. It is also true that jealousy is an intensely uncomfortable emotion. So reassuring your daughter that she is not alone in this feeling can provide some needed validation and relief.
If she’s open to it and you have one, you might share an experience of your own in this area. It could also be beneficial to brainstorm with your daughter about how to handle these situations with peers and friends. For example, deciding on a way to congratulate her friend and being able to vent to you about the more difficult emotions afterward could be helpful. Even having a specific response ready to share, such as, “Congratulations! I know how hard you worked for this,” can ease some of her discomfort in the moment. And it can be reassuring to know that she can talk with you later on about her reaction to her friend’s success.
Developing a Growth Mindset
Beyond handling the interactions with her friends and peers, this is an excellent opportunity to help your daughter develop a growth mindset about her own goals. Based on the seminal work of Dr. Carol Dweck, cultivating a growth mindset allows individuals to view their abilities as malleable through effort and practice, and focuses on the process of reaching goals, rather than a predetermined outcome. For your daughter, this may mean helping her reflect on her own progress in specific areas (e.g., the types of piano pieces she is able to play now compared to last year, or the distance she can run now compared to when she started), rather than her achievements and accolades in those activities. It is also helpful for her to focus on her own goals, rather than comparing her journey to those around her.
When a peer wins a prize or comes in first in a race, you might help your daughter reflect on if that type of accomplishment is important to her and, crucially, why. It isn’t feasible for anyone to pour copious amounts of energy and time into numerous activities, particularly if they also hold high expectations about their schoolwork. It might be helpful to talk with her about her top priorities—the activities that she truly loves or that matter most to her—and decide how she will allocate her resources to pursue goals in those areas, while still maintaining time for other things she enjoys.
Finally, you can help your daughter begin to embrace the idea that the success of others in no way diminishes her own achievements. The oft-cited metaphor that success is not a pie, in which there are a limited number of pieces available, is a helpful visual here. There are countless ways to measure success, beyond accolades and awards.
There is no denying that a first-place finish feels incredible. And it is healthy and normal to feel good about that type of success. But success also comes from persevering toward a goal, learning how to shift your approach to reach higher levels, and managing healthy but challenging emotions, such as jealousy. This is what success looks like in the long run. And pursuing these attributes will serve your daughter not only in her activities, but in her self-concept, as well.