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Competitive Teens

Is being competitive a good or a bad thing for teenagers?


Teenagers are more intent than ever about winning at all costs. They want to win in all areas of life – in school, sports or social circle. Competition can be different and more dangerous than it used to be. Young children can be drawn into it, and they can’t cope with the pressure.

The influence of competitiveness on psychological well-being and social functioning in teens depends on the type of competitiveness and gender.

Competing to win may be detrimental but competing to excel is beneficial to the teens. Teenage boys are keen to compete to win than girls. For girls, competing to win is linked to fewer and less close friendships and higher levels of depression and loneliness.

The pressure to compete can lead to paralyzing stress and unhealthy perfectionism. They end up never being satisfied with their performance and become reluctant to try new things out of fear that they will make a mistake. This is worrying because trying new things is an essential part of adolescence.

What makes competition unhealthy for teens?

  1. Paralyzing anxiety – Teens may associate their self-esteem to their successes and failures. If they fail, they would think they are terrible person.

  2. Cheating – they do whatever they have to do to win.

  3. Loss of learning – kids who were told to focus on the results of a test were less likely to remember the information later.

  4. Weakened individuality. Too much emphasis on not being a ‘loser’ may rob a teen the ability to think things through and stand up to peer pressure.

  5. Risky behaviors. Teen who are labeled as ‘social losers’ will more likely to turn to negative behaviour i.e. smoking, drinking, taking illegal drugs to fit in with peers.

  6. Teens use materialism to win friends; hence they don’t learn how to make true friends based on shared values.

  7. They quit too soon. They stop having fun, lose their intrinsic motivation and even give up.

How can parents help?

Parents cannot stop competition among children. But it is important for them to know how to face competition honestly for a happy and fulfilling life. Aim for healthy competition with realistic expectations and an emphasis on striving for excellence is good for all kids. It educates them about discipline, time management, and goal-setting.

  1. Emphasize personal best. Encourage your teens to improve his personal time, not to beat others; urge them to get a higher score on their next test, not a perfect 100.

  2. When your children ask for the latest gear, make sure it’s not something they can use to show up their peers.

  3. Discuss and practice your family’s values. E.g.

    • If your child complains that other kids are getting extra time for tests, explain that special accommodations are designed for those who truly need them.

    • Cheating is not acceptable in your family.

  4. Talk about and be role models. Give examples of sportsperson who can compete and also help each other. Teach and model to your children that you refuse to keep score. Eg. If you say you’re jealous of your neighbour’s new car, you’ll teach kids to judge others by what they have.

  5. Encourage your teens, but don’t analyze missed opportunities or keep a log of their race times.


  1. Cynthia Hanson. http://www.familycircle.com

  2. Hibbard DR & Buhrmester D (2010). Competitiveness, gender, and adjustment among adolescents. Sex Roles DOI 10.1007/s11199-010-9809-z

Last Reviewed : 25 November 2014
Writer : Dr. Norharlina bte. Bahar
Accreditor : Dr. Sheila Marimuthu