What To Teach Teens About Failure
Written by Family First Adolescent Services,
in Section Articles
Failure is healthy.
When toddlers learn to walk they aren’t discouraged by repeated failure in their initial attempts. They pick themselves up and try again. Eventually, they are running all over the house while you try to keep up.
Imagine if that drive remained with us throughout life - if the desire to get it right superseded the fear of getting it wrong. Anything would be possible. The point of failure is to learn, to grow, and to use our creativity to find a way.
As we near adolescence, cultural and parental influences give failure the wrong impression. Failure becomes associated with consequences, which consequently, can stifle development. This leads to a fear of trying, or worse, unhealthy behavior patterns.
The negative view of failure is a learned behavior, so it stands to reason that this behavior can be unlearned. How do we unlearn this tendency? How can parents of teens equip them with a healthy attitude towards failing?
To answer these questions we must first understand the difference between failure and fault. We are conditioned to blur the lines between the two. In most households, failure and fault are virtually the same things. Children learn at an early age that admitting failure equates to taking the blame - which means punishment. This is counterproductive and potentially harmful.
Our collective attitude of “someone or something must pay for this” stifles meaningful progress and misses the point. The question of blame needs to be addressed in some circumstances, and consequences must be administered accordingly. Generally speaking, we would be better served by treating failures as lessons and opportunities for growth.
There is a distinct difference between attempting something and failing, and failure as a character flaw. An attempt is an action, and therefore exists at a remove from the individual. It isn’t something they are, it is something they did. The action can be assessed, adjusted, and retaken with a better approach. A character flaw, on the other hand, is deeply personal. It is tethered to self-worth and can obscure future behaviors. It is necessary that parents teach their children the difference.
Adolescents develop at a dizzying rate. The behavioral patterns they establish at this stage will shadow their future endeavors. Parents of teens need to take special care to model what healthy failure looks like. Or rather, not model what unhealthy failure looks like. Success is achieved through trying, and trying almost always ends in failure. This is a powerful message. Nothing worthwhile comes with ease. Life is full of obstacles and problems that need to be solved. Sometimes life is flat-out hard.
By teaching teens to embrace failure, not as a defeat, but as a process towards a greater purpose, you give them something incredibly valuable. You give them freedom. Freedom to make mistakes. Freedom to take ownership of who they are - and what they become. It's important to encourage your child to get involved with extracurricular activities, focusing on the process over the result.
The notion that everyone gets a participation trophy has become standard practice in our culture. There’s a fine line between attempting to boost self-esteem and minimizing self-worth. Failure can be a great teacher. Allowing your teens to fail in certain endeavors will not only allow them to grow from the experience but will teach them how to pick themselves up and try again.
Not all failures turn into successes. In fact, many are insurmountable. But that’s life. We only have control over how we respond to a given situation. For failure to be a great teacher, it is necessary to teach adolescents how to react to failure in a healthy manner.
By adopting a growth mindset, teens can learn to remain adaptable to life’s unexpected turns. Doing so can be challenging at first. Human beings tend to favor values that support existing beliefs rather than alternative explanations. But that is what failure is all about - rising to the challenge and learning to viewing setbacks as opportunities.
Teach your teens that failure is healthy. It is a potent agent of growth and development. The most successful people are those that are the best at failing. They have learned to step back, breathe, evaluate, and try again.
Family First Adolescent Services
If you think you may have unknowingly passed along unhealthy behavior patterns to your teenager, Family First Adolescent Services is here to help. We specialize in treating teens who suffer from drug addiction, alcohol addiction, mood disorders, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Our treatment plans offer solutions for the whole family.