Growing up, I wanted to be the best at everything I did. In high school and college, I pushed myself to excel in school and sports and had good success, but my self-esteem was held on by a thread to my athletic and academic performance. I now see many young teens and young adults today in my practice who feel they have to be perfect, especially to get into a good college. I’m stunned by the requirements expected to get into college now…a 4.0 GPA just doesn’t cut it anymore. This leads to a set-up for teens because if they feel they have to be perfect they will inevitably fail.
How do we teach our kids that it’s actually okay to fail and that doing so may even better prepare them for adulthood? It begins with letting them fail and not trying to ensure they never make a mistake, or as a parent, not over-reacting when they make a mistake. Lord knows, when they are out on their own they will make many mistakes and they need to learn to not give in, not to give up, and more importantly, not to over-react themselves. Many teens tell me that they don’t want to disappoint their parents. Parents need to have conversations with their kids about effort, achievement and self-worth and their kids need to be reminded of their value.
I’ve been inspired by the message and research from Brene Brown on bravery and vulnerability. http://brenebrown.com. She reports that failure actually happens as a result of being brave. In her book Daring Greatly she says,
“Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be…with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly”.
There are three things that we can do to remind teens how to bounce back from setbacks and let go of the need to be perfect. First, it’s important to remember that none of us is defined by what we do! That’s a tough concept to get across when our society rewards performance and excellence above all else. Of course, teens can strive for excellence, but that should not define them. We are complex, layered human beings that do many things and no one thing defines us.
Secondly, encourage them to let go of comparing themselves to others. And boy don’t we all need to do this! This comparison game is a no-win situation. Teens will fare better if they set their own goals and intentions, stay in their own lane, and focus on their own improvement.
Finally, realize there are many paths toward success, not one singular, perfect path. The successful teens I see who change course with college plans, career plans, or end toxic relationships all have an ability to be flexible and give themselves permission to change their course. They don’t get stuck in forcing a path. Consequently, their self-talk is less negative if they make a mistake or hit an obstacle along the way.
So, let’s all go out and fail!! Sounds silly but in reality, it may be the best thing that can happen!
Special note: Learning the practice of ‘mindfulness’ is a great way to work through the stress or anxiety of failure and discover new and different paths available to you. Why did you fail? Did you really fail, or did you discover something great and true about yourself, like something you thought you wanted wasn’t what you wanted at all?
Learn a bit about mindfulness HERE and consider giving it a try and then sharing it with your teen!