July 13, 2015 by middleearthnj
We all want our teens to be successful… which means that well-meaning parents can make a couple of common errors when raising their adolescent child: (1) we try to prevent our teen’s mistakes, or (2) we try to rescue and shield them when our teen does make a mistake. Unfortunately, humans tend to learn better through making our own mistakes than any other way.
While it’s natural to want to prepare children for success by ensuring that they have top grades and the best privileges, and to want to save them when something goes wrong in their lives, we are actually denying our teen a valuable lesson. Failure is an inevitable part of life, and you should allow your teen the chance to experience and learn from their mistakes now so they can develop resilience while they have your support. Otherwise, they will be completely unprepared to deal with failures in the real world as an adult. Ironically, you actually best set your child up for success by letting them fail.
Obviously, as a parent, there are certain mistakes you simply cannot allow your teen to make because of safety concerns or significant consequences to your teen’s future. However, there are definitely some common mistakes that teens make that would be in your best interest to allow, despite your misgivings.
1) Choosing the Wrong Friends. At some point your child is going to become friends with someone that you do not like. Regardless of what you think, your teen should get to choose their own friends. Trying to forbid your teen from spending time with certain peers will likely not work, and most likely, will increase their desire to hang out with that friend! The best way to handle it when your teen is hanging out with someone you don’t like is to: 1) ask questions about what they like about the friend to hopefully encourage them to decide on their own not to hang out with them anymore, and 2) set clear rules and limits so that their social interactions are as limited and safe as possible.
2) Avoiding Responsibility. Teens do not learn responsibility when they are pushed into completing their tasks. Well-meaning parents sometimes prevent their teens from making mistakes because they want their children to get good grades or impress their coach. Do you nag your son to get his homework done so he won’t get a zero or run your daughter’s homework up to school because she forgot to bring it in that day? This only causes your teen to become dependent on you for reminders and support. They would learn more from behaving irresponsibly and then experiencing the natural consequences.
3) Sporting an Ugly Style. Adolescence is a time of increasing independence and that means your teen will likely want to experiment with self-expression. Your teen might want to dye their hair a funky color or style it in an unflattering way. Your teen might dress in strange ways, jumping from neon colors one year to gothic black the next year. In the grand scheme of life, these things don’t really matter. As long as your teen’s choices aren’t offensive or harmful, you should allow your teenager to make their own fashion choices and mistakes. Besides, when a teen can express themselves through style, they may be less likely to rebel in other, more harmful ways.
4) Trying Something They Are Bad At. As a parent, you may know your teen’s limitations, and that might make you want to steer your child down roads that will likely lead to success. You might know realistically that your daughter’s chances of making chorus even though she can’t sing or your son’s likelihood of making the baseball team even though he can’t hit a ball are slim to none, but do not deprive your child the experience. Instead, when your teen fails, use the situation to teach them how to overcome challenges and deal with disappointment. They will become more resilient, an essential life skill for success.
5) Experiencing Uncomfortable Emotions. We hate to see our teens hurt, so sometimes we try to shield them from anything uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the truth is that we all need to know how to deal with emotions such as anxiety, anger, sadness, and loneliness. So, don’t try to entertain your teen every time they feel lonely. If your teen hurts your spouse’s feelings, don’t jump in to smooth things over. Experiencing these uncomfortable emotions, and learning how to cope with them, can build your teen’s confidence and help them develop into a more mature person. Every action we take carries consequences and affects those around us. Teens need to learn to think of other people besides themselves.
We are human, and we all make mistakes. By living with the consequences of our actions, we learn, and we improve. So, as hard as it is to let your teen fail, do not deprive them of the best lessons they will ever have to develop into a responsible adult. Be a good role model, guide them, but let them fail. And, when they do fail, be sure you avoid the “I told you so” or “you should have known better” speeches. Instead, tell them a time you made a mistake and how difficult it was to handle. Then, help them break down their mistake, asking them what they would do differently next time. They must have these experiences now while they still have you to lean on, because one day, you won’t be around, and they need to be able to decide what’s right when you’re not there.