by Chris Taylor, MFT, Author “Back to Basics"

In sports it is said that one rises to level of his competition.  I suppose it could be conversely stated that one can also lower them to inferior completion.  Overall I think this means that when presented a challenge that we are encouraged or expected to meet, we generally will outperform our expectations.  This does not exempt us from failing to succeed or that we always reach our desired outcome, but it does make us think twice about how we set the bar for our challenging teens.

When we feel defeated, our natural tendency is to quit trying.  We are acknowledging that no amount of effort will change the outcome so why bother.  We create a narrative that can last a moment, a day or potentially the rest of our lives.  It is the result of how we internalize our experiences.  Do we accept that defeat is inevitable, or do we develop a sense of resiliency that if we only try harder next time that success will be the result?


When dealing with our teens we need to set the bar as high as we can imagine.  I would say that in my 14 years of experience as a teen therapist, most parents understand that setting high expectations is the easy part.  The trick is, how to do this when your teen has consistently not performed at a high level.  Most parents become frustrated when their teens don’t rise to the challenge and meet failure with consequences, shame, and guilt, all of which cause the teen to internalize that failure is their destiny, so why try to succeed.  Do not fall into the trap of defining your teen by the mistakes they make.  This will reduce them to a product of their negative choices

The good news is that there is a different way.  Parents can still set the bar high, but when failure happens, they see it as an opportunity to encourage better performance next time.  They can use encouragement and optimism as an infectious tool that will help kids to internalize resiliency.  I often say that teens wear labels like a coat.  What coat would you hand them, negative self-belief, or high self esteem.

When Thomas Edison was asked what he did all the times he failed at inventing the light bulb, he said that he patented them.  Most people when honestly asked what helped them achieve success their answer will focus more on how they responded to failure.  Give your teen the opportunity to succeed by setting the bar higher than you think they can reach.  I will tell you first hand, that even the most challenging teen can overcome their circumstances if they are encouraged by the belief that there is a brighter future.  Maybe the simplest way to say it is to give your teen the gift of hope.  It is a gift in that it starts within you but ends within them. 

Remember this next time you are interacting with anyone whom you desire positive change from.  Will they respond better to encouragement or judgment?  To answer this look in the mirror and ask which one you need when facing adversity in life.  I am certain of the answer.