I’ve probably earned the right to screw up a few times. I don’t want the fear of failure to stop me from doing what I really care about. (Emma Watson)
Is the intent to normalize failure something that is both necessary and vital to success? Our teens need to learn, experience, and be reminded that their life is not immune to failing, although on social media we can agree that everyone has the perfect life. Our teens, who use social media regularly, commonly take and process everything they see on social media as the ground truth. As much as we want to minimize their social media interaction, it is where our teens interact, and social media is everything to our teens. Everything they see, feel, and experience on social media is pretty much life changing in their world, and that includes failing, which in the social media arena is life altering.
Teens spend hours scrolling through thoughtfully organized and scripted posts of their peers and see not only perfect poses, but amazing transcripts and school accolades, all the while thinking “What is wrong with ME?” Our teens often feel like a failure as their life does not measure up to the social media life of those around them. To make matters worse, parents, educators, coaches, and college admissions administrators, have also “bought into” the social media hype where now being average is not good enough. Think about it, have you seen a parent post and applaud their teens “C” grade on social media, or that their teen is not taking the college pathway but instead going to work? Social media has created a new norm and increased the bandwidth of what failure looks like. We have allowed that to happen.
However, we as parents need to take back the stigma of failing, to change the narrative. We may not be able to take on the monster of social media but we can make sure our teen understands how we feel about failure and the learning that happens when your teen fails or does not take the path that social media is “directing” your teen to do. But how do you do this as a parent? You can talk openly about the failings in your own past, of huge mistakes and times when you thought your world was in total chaos. Follow up with all the things you learned from those hard times, and how “failing” can be one of the best disguised advantages one can experience in life. Explain that social media only shows the scripted, the prompted and the ideal and that is not reality. Sharing that consistently, even when the eye rolls start, helps your teen to understand that social media is not reality and helps them to be confident in themselves and to understand that they are not a failure, and that any failure they experience is a valuable growth opportunity.