Parents naturally want their children not to fail. They want their kids not to suffer the embarrassment and insecurity that come with failure, and they want their children to enjoy the benefits of success. Parents want to enjoy their children’s successes too. In an effort to reap these benefits and to minimize failures, many parents attempt to short-circuit the natural consequences of failure and they do so in a number of ways. One way is to lavish their children with praise even for mediocre performance. Another way is to lower the expectations on their children.
Yet another way is to “overparent” children. Jessica Lahey at The Atlantic cited a recent study which asked parenting professionals whether “they had witnessed examples of overparenting.” The most distressing overparenting were parents who took “their child’s perception as truth, regardless of the facts” and who are “quick to believe their child over the adult and deny the possibility that their child was at fault or would even do something of that nature.” These parents exhibit “high responsiveness and low demandingness.” They are the parents who “rush to school at the whim of a phone call from their child to deliver items such as forgotten lunches, forgotten assignments, [or] forgotten uniforms.”
The problem with this overparenting is that “the children do not learn to take responsibility (and the natural consequences) of their actions. The children may develop a sense of entitlement…” These are parents who “won’t let their child learn.” Parents should remember that the education of natural consequences is a gift, “not a dereliction of [their] duty.” The benefits of natural consequences is especially true for teenagers whose state of life is expressly to learn how to become an adult.
Coaching Your Teen
Parents can coach their teenagers through the discomfort, embarrassment, and failure that will come in adolescence. In an article, “The Benefits of Natural Consequences,” James Lehman, MSW gives parents three simple questions that they can use to discuss embarrassment and failure with their teens.
“What part did you play in this?”
This discussion is key for helping teens take responsibility for the only thing they can control: their involvement. Parents should use basic questions to get their teen thinking about this discussion: “Where did you get off track?” “Where did things go wrong?” If the teen still needs help responding, the parent should not supply the teen with the answers but continue to ask questions about possible answers until the teen starts to participate. The parent must challenge any of the teen’s defenses in order to help the teen own up to his or her involvement. And the parent must not accept any excuses.
“What are you going to do differently next time?”
The main goal in this discussion is to help the teen see alternative ways of how he or she could have responded to the situation. Help the teen think through as many possible alternatives as you can.
“What did you learn from this?”
In this discussion, the parent must ensure not to take responsibility from the teen. The parent must not attempt to solve the problem for the teen. Parents will naturally want to accommodate their teens for circumstances that they feel were unfair: for example, ineffective teachers or less desirable school policies. When this tendency arises, the parent must remember to allow the teen to suffer the frustrations that will only continue throughout the rest of life especially as they enter higher education and the workplace.
Though difficult both to initiate and to endure, parents can learn to let their children suffer the natural consequences of failure if they keep in mind the enormous benefits that will come when their teen becomes self-motivating in all of aspects of life especially in education.
Tyler Jacobson is the Online Outreach Coordinator for HelpYourTeenNow.com. HYTN is a parent advocacy group dedicated to helping families with troubled teens.