We live in a culture where photos are airbrushed and perfection reigns supreme. Models and celebrities parade around with flawless skin, the most fashionable clothing and pay publicists to provide damage control in not-so-flattering situations. Our culture provides role models that are seemingly perfect—a great detriment to our young people. In actuality, mistakes are a pathway to excellence.
According to Charles Kettering, a great American inventor who contributed to the development of the automobile, “An inventor fails 999 times, and if he succeeds once, he’s in. He treats his failures simply as practice shots.” Unfortunately for teens today, quotes like, “failure is not an option,” is a mentality that is woven into their being. The quote, however, is missing one important clause.
“Failure is not an option—it’s a requirement.”
Teens best understand the breadth of their resourcefulness and resilience through unfavorable conditions. As adults, it is our job to let them fully experience these times to grow, mature and learn qualities such as hardiness and optimism. It is to their detriment when we try to ‘fix’ the situation for them.
Hovering parents (aka “helicopter parents”) will call a teacher when their son/daughter makes a poor grade. Instead of allowing the teen to make that mistake, they argue with the teacher or ask for opportunities to complete extra credit. Not only are these parents protecting their children from failure in the classroom, but they are continuing to shield them in college and careers, as well. NPR recently highlighted helicopter parents that are contacting human resource managers to advocate on their child’s behalf, negotiating benefits and compensation for their adult-aged children! This is the manifestation of this problem – adults who are unprepared for real life.
Though it requires great restraint to watch your teen go through difficulties or potential hardship, your optimistic support can help them understand that these experiences are a part of life. By ‘being there’ for your teen, you send the message that you believe they can handle the situation. Parents that provide a listening ear as support nurture their teen’s independence into adulthood. Simply intervening on their behalf sends the message that they are not able to deal with their mistakes.
Do you cover for your teen’s mistakes? (Examples of such behavior include parents who complete their child’s late homework assignments, allowing them to stay home when they did not finish an assignment and those who cover for their teens when things go awry with friendships, etc.)
Though the motive of such actions comes from deep care and love for your child, these are not the types of reactions that will help them grow and learn from their difficulties.
Instead of providing damage control for your teen, think about ways that you can help them use these experiences to grow. We are all human. We all make mistakes. The difference between a mistake from which one can grow or become impaired is the process of how one recovers from it. Failure should not be scrutinized under a microscope, but rather by taking 50 steps away from it and examining it in context.
Consider the following questions as a framework to calmly and nonjudgmentally discuss topics of failure with your teen:
- Why do you think this happened?
- Why did you react the way you did? (Encourage them to use “I” statements such as, “I felt _____, when _________”)
- What do you think would have helped?
- What support do you need from me?
These are questions that can help foster critical thinking about such mishaps and provide an opportunity for growth and improvement.