Success is not built on success. It’s built on failure. It’s built on frustration. Sometimes it’s built on catastrophe.
– Sumner Redstone
Often I have parents tell me how they will email a teacher or intervene to not let their teenager fail. I often have a parent tell me it is their responsibility to make sure that everything turns out okay and that failure is a negative experience that their teenager does not need to experience. I listen. Every parent wants to protect their child. It is our nature. We want the best for our children, whatever that may be for them. But is protecting or stopping failure really helping your child to create success, to take responsibility, to find intrinsic motivation, and to have resilience to try again?
Failure is not something any of us want to experience, but it is also a powerful teacher and imparts knowledge and wisdom that only comes after experiencing a failure. I challenge parents to view failure as an opportunity. A way to walk with your teenager in discovering the reasons behind the failure and the way to avoid a similar incident in the future. The important thing to remember is that failure is an event, a situation. It is not who your teenager is. The saying “hindsight is worth a million” is not because everyone did something perfect, but the opposite that they had some sort of failure that encouraged growth in the individual. So what is failure?
Failure is courage. It is taking the risk to go and try. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is feeling the fear and taking action anyway. When your teenager tries, no matter what the outcome may be, it shows that they have great courage. Here is a great opportunity as a parent to focus on the courage it took to try something new, to focus on the attribute of courage, not the failure of a situation.
Yes, with failure your teenager doesn’t get the result they want, but it can also spark the desire to succeed. It can create the opportunity for you to help your teenager write goals and actions to create the success they want in that part of their life. No doubt your teenager will feel discouraged, frustrated, or upset but these feelings don’t last forever. With your guidance your teenager can find that burst of determination and strength to try again, with a new approach. Failure makes you more focused on a successful outcome next time.
Failure is a powerful teacher. It is simply an opportunity to try a different method. It is also the opportunity to start again, and strive for success. Failure sometimes opens a new opportunity or allows your teenager to see a different path to the same goal. If you, as a well intentioned parent, intervenes and bulldozes the way to success with your teenager’s method, or often worse with your method, what have you taught your teenager? Often you will have taught your teenager that mom or dad will always be there and not allow them to fail, or they will be angry frustrated as they are trying to gain their independence from you and are looking for a mentor not always a parent in situations.
I often encourage clients to examine their failure. What created the failure? The best example is an exam. Receiving a bad grade often leads to the teenager feeling frustrated, angry, and possibly scared of what their parents will say. It is also one of the areas I often see teenages “blame” the teacher or the difficulty of the test for their grade. If you take a different approach toward this failure, the outcome is knowledge, growth, and a sense of determination for mastery of the subject. Ask what do you see as success in this subject? This test is not a reflection of that success. What can you (the teenager) do to create that success? The conversation focuses not on the character of the teenager but on the situation of what the teenager can do next time, before the next test, to create the success they want to see in that subject. It is not useful to dwell and be angry about the failure. What is important is to take away the learning points. What needs to change to create the success the teenager wants? If the teenager can articulate that, you as a parent have created a teachable moment. You have created resilience and built up intrinsic motivation.
So failure is not an enemy of our teenagers. It is actually a powerful opportunity for teenagers to learn. To be able to discuss the failure and to have a parent or life coach work through the learning, the desire to define what their success is, and how they are going to achieve it. It creates resilience and therefore as they go out into the world and encounter failures in their life, they will have tools within themselves to work around the failure and to turn that failure into success. If parents intervene, call teachers, and navigate the road for their teenager, it promotes dependency and not the independent teenager and future adult that you as the parent are wanting to achieve.
Next time you want to intervene to stop a failure, think about the learning, growing, motivating, and resilient teaching moment that this can be. It is a powerful opportunity as a parent to provide the conversation to discuss a failure in terms of the situation and not the character of your teenager. The lesson will be valuable.