Recently, I shared some bad news with a good friend of mine and she sent me this video. The video served two purposes: (1) She wanted me to know that she would stand by me through the hard times and (2) she wanted to communicate how important it was for me to stand by others. Her sharing was a real gift to me. Instantly, I thought of how important it is to “stand by” our teens. It is much easier to stand by them when they do something great. However, it is in the times that they struggle, or make a mistake that they need it the most. Check out this video, and then lets look at how we can stand by our teens and coach them through their mistakes.
Most adults have experienced heart break, hurt a friend’s feelings, or told a white lie. Some have gotten a speeding ticket, failed an exam, or lost a job. The reality is that we are human, and we have all made mistakes. Along with those mistakes, we have had to live with the consequences of our actions. Think back to the mistakes you’ve made. How did you feel? My guess is that you knew you made a mistake and felt pretty bad about it. In reality, we are often our own worst critics.
Sometimes parents forget that our teens are much like adults. They know when they have made a mistake and sometimes get defensive when someone points it out. Teens can feel a range of emotions including sadness, embarrassment, and disappointment in themselves. They are often scared to tell mom and dad, afraid of the punishment, and worried about what people will think of them.
So, how can you coach your teens through mistakes? Let’s start with what your teen does not need. Avoid rescuing your teens from making mistakes. Rescuing does a few things. First, it tells teens that they should not make mistakes. This can lead teens to have performance anxiety or feel unrealistic pressures to be perfect. When adults jump in, it also communicates that they are not capable of taking care of the situation themselves. This takes away opportunities for them to build self-confidence and learn from their mistakes. The other thing parents can avoid is lecturing teens. Lecturing does not help teens, especially when they already recognize and feel bad about their mistake. Often times, lecturing leads teens to shut down and stop listening.
Your teen does need to hear that you will stand by them. Being supportive is not the same as excusing their behavior. Along with the appropriate consequence, it is important to have a conversation with your teen about what happened, what they made it mean, and what they are going to do about it. When you take the time to listen, you get an opportunity to hear what is really going on in their head. When they feel heard, they are more likely to be open to your thoughts or suggestions. Outside of being a good listening, your job is to ask good questions. Here are some questions that can help you coach your teen through his/her mistakes:
- What’s up?
- Let’s talk about it? I’m all ears.
- Why do you think this happened?
- How can you make this better for you?
- What do you wish you had done differently?
- What is really important to you? Why?
- What are you going to do about it?
- Who might you want to talk to about this?
- Please say more so that I can really understand.
- How do you want to move forward?
You may be surprised how much head nods and words like uh-huh, yeah, I see, etc., will prompt your teen to keep talking. As they share, reflect back to them:
- Can I tell you what I am hearing?
- Did I understand this right?
- I heard you say….. is that what you meant?
You may have some important things to share after you have listened to what you teen has to say. Keep in mind that the idea is to help them deal with their mistakes without telling them what to do. The teen years are a time to practice good decision-making and problem solving. These questions may open the door for you to share your thoughts without sounding like you are taking over or giving too much advice.
- How can I help?
- Can I share a different way of looking at this?
- Can I give you a suggestion?
- I have some ideas. Would you like to hear them?
- I have seen this before. Can I share some things that have helped others?
Sometimes, teens make mistakes that need a lot more adult intervention. Try this if you want to provide more guidance but you still want the conversation to be inviting to your teen.
I would like to talk about something really important, and I am not really sure how to talk to you about it? Will you help me work it out?
Finally, it is important to encourage your teen to apologize when he/she makes a mistake. Apologies are as much for the person apologizing as they are for the one receiving it. When teens apologize, they are able to come clean for their mistake and ask for forgiveness. It is in that moment that they can accept the mistake as an event, instead of something that defines them. Not apologizing can leave teens making assumptions about what someone thinks, feels or believes about them. If a teen take these thoughts, feelings, and beliefs on as being real, they can become a part of how the teen defines him/herself. It may be helpful for you to share a story or two about apologies that you have made. This will help them see that they are not alone in making mistakes.