Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Teen Parenting Series #7 - The Importance of Letting Your Teen Fail

I realize that initially this idea of letting your teen fail sounds counter-productive. As parents, we are supposed to provide our children with a successful environment, a value and morals system in order for them not to fail, right? Obviously, it is important to provide all of the above. Invariably though, our children will fail, they will stumble and fall. The key is, how we respond to these situations. As our response will set the bar with our children, on how they will respond to their mistakes and/or failures. There are times you will see that Johnny is about to create a sticky situation for himself, and as hard as it is, we need to know that there are situations that he needs to experience the "crash" to learn the lesson involved. If we swoop in everytime he is going to make a mistake, or fail a class, or screw up a good thing, how will he ever learn to recover? How will he ever learn the ramifications of his actions? It is important to let him fail and feel it first hand now and then. If we jump in before he even saw where he was headed, have we really helped him (or her)? Does this mean ingore all the warning signs of bad behavoir or a change in behavoir? No. But it also doesn't mean run to his side everytime he screws up. Simple humanity 101 - people screw up. If you're lucky, you learn from your screw up. If your parent buffers too much on your behalf, you are being robbed of your opportunity to learn. If you've read my prior posts you're probably getting used to my parental mantra:
"Stuff happens. How you respond to it, defines who you are as a person."
Like anything in life, our teens need the opportunity to learn how to respond; and like most things, they will first learn it from our actions. Which is why our response to their mistakes or failures is so important.
If we overreact and succumb to that emotional knee jerk response of, "how could you do this," or the classic, "after all we've done for you," (as if it were all about us), we totally missing the boat on a great teaching opportunity. That is, teaching our children how to respond accordingly.
Parents who constantly respond to the normal kid screw ups and mistakes with lectures along the lines of - how their teen's actions have negated everything they have worked for, that nothing will be the same, etc., are setting their teens up for a life of dissapointment; they have set the "how you respond to mistakes in life" bar very low for their teen. (Granted, there are times that perhaps those ltypes of lectures are needed, I'm not referring to those situations ie., breaking a law, committing an act of violence, etc.,) Teens who constantly hear those lectures every time they trip up tend to be so AFRAID of failing, even making a mistake, end up being too afraid to take the risk of possibly being wrong.
  1. These teens tend to stay in the boundries of their "safety net."
  2. They resist thinking out side the box.
  3. They become content with always playing it safe, at the creeky old age of 15!
  4. They will miss out on the thrill of victory outside of your comfort zone.
  5. They will not feel the reward of risk return.
  6. They won't strive for anything that is beyond their reach - in other words, if they don't have a pretty failproof gurantee of the outcome, then they won't go for it.

Another classic response to your teens mistakes/failures is the "helicopter parent."

This parent hovers and swoops in at the first sign of distress. They quickly find ways to justify their child's actions, ultimately making the conclusionit wasn't their child's fault. They completely nullify any of the ramifications of their teen's choice or actions. The child is prevented from being accountable, and therefore never learns the lesson: for all actions there are reactions. It's never "their fault." These children are truly being done a dis-service and will have a hard time when they are not under the protective umbrella of their parent's running interference for them. These teens tend to:

  1. Never have a true understanding of their actions and how they affect others.
  2. Do not have a realistic understanding of accountability.
  3. Have a hard time understanding why others won't want to work with them.
  4. Challenging times ahead for them on their first job.
  5. Won't feel the enpowerment that comes with leadership, as those who can't be accountable for themselves are seldom put in positions of leadership and accountability for their group or team, etc.,
  6. Rules and boundries don't mean the same to them, and so it will be a constant struggle for them in this area.
  7. Tend to feel everyone is out to "get" them, when others point out their mistakes or failures.
  8. Will not handle losing a game, a bad test, or any kind of failure very well; simply because they have not been given the chance to learn how to do so.

So the next time your teen screws up - focus more on what they learned from it, or how they responded to it. Did they run away from the problem, and didn't accept any responsiblity for it? Then point out how their actions or choices created the situation, and what could they do differently next time. Most importantly, hold them accountable.

Or, if your child "steps up" and accepts responsibility for their actions? Then, even in this time of failure, there is success! They have learned, and therefore grown from their mistake. They will be stronger for having gone through it. That is the teen that is less likely to repeat their mistakes.

From my perspective, the teen that has parents who are strong enough to let go and let them fall because they loved them enough to know a little hurt now, prevents a lot of hurt later, is the teen that will grow up to live life to the fullest. They will not be afraid to think out of the box, and they will reach beyond what is "guaranteed" to get what they want in life!


Sogeshirtsguy said...

Once again I've never had kids but I think you nailed again. Everyone makes mistakes and if parents micromanage their kids they never learn for themselves. Failing is a part of life and kids must learn from failure to get that life experience.

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