When it comes to dealing with failure, teens generally fall into four categories.
- Success-Oriented Students: These are the kids who love learning for the sake of learning and see failure as a way to improve their ability rather than a slight on their value as a human being. Research has also found that these students tend to have parents who praise success and rarely, if ever, reprimand failure.
- Overstrivers: These students can also be called “closet-achievers.” They avoid failure by succeeding—but only with herculean effort motivated solely by the fear that even one failure will confirm their greatest fear: that they’re not perfect. Because the fear of failure is so overpowering and because they doubt their abilities, Overstrivers will, on occasion, tell everyone that they have very little time to prepare for an upcoming test—and then spend the entire night studying. When they pass the test with flying colors, this “shows” everyone that they are brilliant because their “ability” trumped the need to extend any effort.
- Failure-avoiding: These students don’t expect to succeed—they just want to avoid failing. They believe that if they extend a lot of effort but still fail, then this implies low ability and hence, low worth. But if they don’t try and still fail, this will not reflect negatively on their ability and their worth remains intact. In order to avoid failure that might be due to lack of ability, they do things such as make excuses (the dog ate my homework), procrastinate, don’t participate, and choose near-impossible tasks. However, this can put them into a tricky position when they encounter a teacher who rewards effort and punishes for what appears to be lack of effort or worse. Ultimately, there’s no way out for these students—either they try and fail or they’re punished.
- Failure-accepting: These are the hardest students to motivate because they’ve internalized failure—they believe their repeated failures are due to lack of ability and have given up on trying to succeed and thus maintain their self-worth. Any success they might experience they ascribe to circumstances outside of their control.
(Info inspired by https://characterlab.org/tools/grit)
How do you handle your teen’s failure? That is a question for your quiet time.
When your kids fall (and they will), this is what you do.
Pain is involved. Pain often is the beginning.
Be inspired. Be there. Teach your beloved to get up again. Teach that falling only makes you stronger.
There’s a parable about a new mother who discovered a butterfly struggling mightily to escape its cocoon through a tiny opening at the top. She became concerned when the creature seemed to give up after making no progress. Certain the butterfly wouldn’t make it out without help, so she enlarged the hole slightly.
On its next try, the butterfly wriggled out easily. But the young woman’s joy turned to horror when she saw its wings were shriveled and useless. Her well‑intentioned intervention had interrupted a natural process. Forcing the butterfly to squeeze through a small opening is nature’s way of assuring that blood from the creature’s body is pushed into the wings. By making it easier, she deprived the butterfly of strong wings.
When parenting fear hits you, remember the Parable of the Butterfly.