As the next school year is about to begin and summer is coming to an end, many parents begin to dread this transition time for their teen. The worries begin to race through their head, "Is my child going to do well this year? What if they fail? What if they hate their teachers? What if they are bullied? What if they can't keep up with the workload?"
This is natural since most parents want their child to do well and have a better life. However, in the midst of the swirling anxieties and worries, it's essential to remember the importance of failure and that it's not the end of the world, especially for teen girls.
In her article "Why Failure Hits Girls So Hard," Rachel Simmons writes, "Rescuing girls from failure makes them lose motivation — even more than boys... So what does work for girls? One study found that using informational praise to describe a good performance ("You did very well on that test"), instead of making an interpretation of it ("You’re so smart"),increased girls’ intrinsic motivation. Praising effort ("You worked really hard on that") over ability has consistently been proven to motivate all kids, and especially girls.
Failing well is a skill. Letting girls do so gives them critical practice coping with a negative experience. It also gives them the opportunity to develop a kind of confidence and resilience that can only be forged in times of challenge. Besides this, girls need educators and parents to challenge stereotype threat, reminding them that ability can always be improved with effort, and that who they are will not determine where they end up.
Lahey says that saving kids from failure sends the message that we think they’re 'incompetent, incapable and unworthy of our trust.' That’s why giving kids the space to screw up, as Lahey advises, is so important — and will be particularly so for girls."
So as the school year is about to begin, I invite you as parents and educators to see what gifts could arise out of your teen struggling and what lessons they could learn. Most likely, your teen will struggle. Most likely, they will fail at something, either big or small. Being a teenager is tough— from broken friendships to exploring romantic relationships, to navigating peer pressure, to learning how to deal with difficult teachers. So how can you as their parent begin to see the gift in their struggle and support them in finding their own solutions both in school and outside of school?
Like I mentioned before, many parents can struggle with this whole "allowing your teen to fail" thing. In fact, it may feel like that is going against every fiber of your being as a parent. If this resonates with you, I invite you every time you see your child struggling and you start catastrophizing or wanting to fix the problem, to take note of your worries with compassion (you are just wanting to protect your child). And then, I encourage you to think of what amazing lesson they might learn from figuring this out on their own, which will then shape them into a more capable and successful adult.
Are you nervous about the beginning of the school year? Unsure how to see failures and struggles as a gift rather than a curse? Or are you looking for tools in how to set up your teen for a successful school year? If so, let me know! As always, I'd love to support however I can.
I am a teen-empowerment coach. I work with teen girls, ages 14-17, who struggle with self-acceptance, perfectionism, seeking attention from others, and deep sadness or anger.