Taking back control – why young people need to fail

Alan White New

Alan White

This might sound like a strange title, but the more I work with young people the more I can see that many young people who fail to build the resilience required to become successful in their lives, are the ones who have not been allowed to experience failure for themselves, and been given the space to try again and succeed.

Very often, this happens when the young person is lucky enough to have a parent or other adult in their lives who care so much that they want to prevent any suffering. This is of course admirable but can actually have an adverse effect on wellbeing.

Feeling a sense of control in our lives is one of the most empowering things that we can achieve. Knowing that we have the capacity to bounce back from failure when it occurs, gives us a sense of inner strength and the knowledge that we can not only handle life’s inevitable setbacks, but also actually learn from each experience.

This is a difficult task for any parent, as our natural instincts are to protect our children at all costs. We tend to jump in and try to fix problems without allowing the time for young people to resolve it for themselves, leaving the adult permanently stressed through hyper-vigilance and the young person disempowered and unable to take any positive action in their lives.

Why would they? If they know that someone else will fix the problem for them if they just wait long enough. The role of the adult is still important at times of challenge. Taking a step back can be difficult but it’s also important to support, encourage and advise young people while allowing them space and time to resolve whatever issue they are dealing with.

The results I see of fixing things too early for young people are that many of them lack the capacity to come through difficult time as they feel they cannot take effective control over their lives. I regularly meet young people who are struggling with various difficulties and very often, the problem they are facing is magnified by the fact that they lack faith in their own ability to resolve it for themselves.

When parents attempt to intervene in problems that young people are having, very often the problem persists. When it is resolved through a parent or adult, I often find that a similar problem arises quite quickly again.

I have a lot of difficult conversations in my work. It’s difficult watching young people suffer and the hardest thing to do is to know when to take a step back and simply support a young person through a time of crisis. More often than not, that is the only effective strategy that we can use to help and empower a young person, but to do this we, as adults, need to fight our instincts to protect, which is a huge challenge.

We all want to experience success in our lives, but we quickly realise that success gained through others, where we feel we have not given of ourselves is a hollow success. Its gain without pain. The feeling that we have earned success through navigating challenges is both rewarding and vital to build self-esteem and allow people to gain independence.

Failure also allows us to gain a new perspective on things and allows us to learn valuable lessons that would otherwise be lost. So allow young people to try and fail. It’s amazing how they rebound and come back again, stronger and more capable.

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