by Jim Davis
Our society is built on a paradox when it comes to failure. On the one hand we are taught about all the famous people -- inventors like Edison, political leaders like Lincoln and Churchill, athletes like Michael Jordan -- who went through periods of failure in their lives and triumphed to succeed. On the other hand, however, we learn that failure is a disgrace -- even answering a question incorrectly in class can bring ridicule, sometimes even from the teacher. Sometimes even a well-meaning comment can be perceived as a criticism that can have devastating results.
My late father-in-law told a story of his experience with this type of problem.
He was never very fond of "book learning" in school, although he was a very intelligent person. One day, however, his teacher gave a writing assignment that he really got excited about. He really put his heart into the project and did what he considered to be his very best work.
When I heard the story, he was in his late 60s, but the hurt was still on his face when he told how he was so excited to get the paper back from the teacher, and then he looked at her comment: "Too Brief." Nothing else. That teacher probably never had an inkling of an idea that she had squashed a budding interest in writing. But she did it.
Instead of pointing to the "obvious flaws" in your teen's reasoning when they come up with an idea for something they want to do, try encouraging them to try it. And if it doesn't work the first time encourage them to try alternatives. Just don't tell them what to do. Let them come up with their ideas. Even if they decide to ask for your help, make it clear that they are the ones in charge. If you make a suggestion that they don't like, it's their option to turn it down.
If this seems like too big a risk, try one thing before you "put your foot down." Rent the movie October Sky and watch it with your teen if you haven't seen it yet. (The book is great, too.) If you have already seen it, you already know what I'm getting at. Your teen will grow up to be an adult, regardless of what you do. You will have some input on what kind of adult they become, however.