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  • Writer's pictureTracey Wozny

Failures, Not Flaws: Empowering Youth Through Setbacks

Let's talk about a topic that strikes at the core of our parenting and leadership journey with teens: the topic of failure.

It's not merely a stumble along the path of life; it's a paralyzing force that keeps our young leaders from even daring to take the first step.

Picture a teenager, filled with dreams and aspirations, yet hesitating to pursue them for fear of falling short. In the moment of hesitation, it's as though their world is holding them in a trap, chaining them to the safety of their comfort zone.

But here's the remarkable truth: amidst that fear, among that uncertainty, lies an opportunity for profound growth. Growth and resilience that this next generation needs so desperately but too many teens are afraid to take even the first step. They are deathly afraid of failing.

Teens today often fear failing and stepping out of their comfort zones due to a combination of societal pressures, high expectations, and a fear of judgment or rejection.

I have had many conversations in my 30 years of youth leadership, listening to the feedback of teenagers on why they are afraid to fail. The most frequent answer on why they are afraid to fail is because they are worried about what they will look like in front of their peers.

In today's world, the influence of social media, where every success and failure is magnified and scrutinized, creates pressure to portray a perfect image of oneself. This fear of failure many times stems from what others will think of them, being made fun of, ostracized or humiliated.

Some of the other reasons expressed to me in conversations with teens include the pressure of getting good grades and the push from parents for high academic achievements.

One of my students expressed that there's this pressure to always get things right, and any slip-up feels like a huge deal. So, instead of taking risks and trying new things, they stick to what they know because it feels safer that way.

Not to mention too, that the world is moving so fast these days. There is this constant pressure to keep up. Teens are bombarded with so many options and opportunities, and it can feel overwhelming. They're afraid of making the wrong choice or missing out on something better, so they stick to what's familiar—even if it means missing out on new experiences and opportunities for to take them to the next level.

The fear of failure is real for teens today. It's like this big cloud hanging over them, making it hard to take risks and step out of their comfort zones.

But as leaders, parents and mentors, we can help!

Here’s how:

  1. Guide them to Cultivate a Growth Mindset:

Encouraging teenagers to adopt a growth mindset can be a game-changer when it comes to facing the fear of failure. Instead of viewing failure as a reflection of their abilities, a growth mindset teaches them to see it as an opportunity for learning and growth. Adults can help create this mindset by praising their efforts and resilience rather than just their achievements. By emphasizing the process of learning and improvement, rather than the end result, teens are more likely to embrace challenges and take risks.

One practical way to cultivate a growth mindset is through reframing failure as a natural part of the learning process. Adults can share their own experiences of failure and how they learned and grew from them. By normalizing failure and highlighting its importance in personal development, teenagers can begin to see setbacks as stepping stones rather than roadblocks.

Additionally, adults can encourage teens to set realistic goals and celebrate progress along the way. By breaking big goals into smaller, more manageable tasks, teens can build confidence and resilience as they work towards their objectives. This stepping stone approach helps them see failure as a temporary setback rather than a permanent defeat.

Praising for the effort, not the achievement!

2. Create a Safe and Supportive Consistent Environment:

Teens are more likely to take risks and step out of their comfort zones when they feel supported and encouraged by the adults in their lives. Creating a safe and supportive environment where failure is normalized and even celebrated can go a long way in helping teens overcome their fear of failure.

Adults can start by actively listening to teens' fears and concerns without judgment. By validating their feelings and offering empathy and support, adults can help teens feel understood and accepted. Additionally, adults can provide constructive feedback and encouragement, focusing on the effort rather than the outcome.

It's also important for adults to model resilience and perseverance in the face of failure.

This is the number one leadership rule: Lead by Example!

By demonstrating how they cope with setbacks and bounce back from adversity, adults can show teens that failure is not the end of the road, but rather an opportunity for growth and learning.

Moreover, adults can create opportunities for teens to step out of their comfort zones in a safe and supportive way. Whether it's trying a new hobby, speaking up in class, or applying for a challenging opportunity, adults can gently push teens to stretch themselves and embrace new experiences.

Be a consistent example of resiliency built through failure!

3. Create a Culture of Risk-Taking and Innovation:

Teens are more likely to face their fear of failure when they are surrounded by a culture that values risk-taking and innovation. Adults can foster this culture by encouraging teens to explore their interests and passions, even if it means taking risks and making mistakes along the way.

One way to create a culture of risk-taking and innovation is by creating opportunities for teens to engage in projects or activities that allow for experimentation and creativity. Whether it's starting a club, organizing an event, or pursuing a passion project, adults can empower teens to take ownership of their ideas and pursue their passions with enthusiasm.

One of the projects we did recently with our leadership class was to create a Day of Dance event where all of the students marketed, organized, promoted and directed a free day of a dance clinic for the children in the community.

There were many “failures” along the way; lower attendance than expected, unstructured timelines and extra costs, but the experience through the project allowed them to see where they had room to grow. They debriefed after the event to make notes of improvement for the next event and celebrated their accomplishments. There was growth through the process and they were confident that the next event would be even better due to what they learned through the “failures” of the event.

By cultivating a growth mindset, creating a safe and supportive environment, and encouraging a culture of risk-taking and innovation, we can help teens face their fear of failure. Working through failure to develop resilience and gain confidence is necessary to help navigate life's ups and downs.

It is now our turn to equip the young leaders of the next generation to jump head first into failure as a valuable life skill!



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