Adolescence: Designed for Failure, Recovery, and Growth

The seeds of success

Posted Dec 06, 2012

I am a doctor. I make mistakes sometimes, we all do. But if I allow a major failure now, there can be severe repercussions for others. Thank goodness I know both my strengths and limitations, understand under what circumstances I am likely to fail, and know precisely when and where to seek support. I know the workarounds for those areas where I am, even on a good day, challenged.

I am grateful for all of the opportunities for failure I had earlier in my life. They gave me the gift of self-awareness. They taught me my strengths as well.

I am thankful for my adolescence, the time where I grew, tested my limits, and quite often failed. I failed sometimes gracefully, and occasionally without a shred of elegance. 

Learning to deal with mistakes helps adolescents prepare for the realities of the world where things don’t always turn out as planned, even if we try really hard.

So many kids today see failure as something to be avoided at all costs. The stakes seem too high. The possibility of disappointing their parents is devastating. They are made to believe a B+ can ruin their aspirations. 

I am worried about the future. If adolescence is not a time that offers rooms for colossal failures, when will young people learn how to navigate adversity? When will they gain the self-awareness of their limitations, and the workarounds to their challenges? How will they learn when to reach for help? How will they know how far they can push the boundaries to unleash their creativity? When will they learn that every great innovation is preceded by multiple failed attempts? 

We have to dial down the pressures that are instilling a fear of failure in so many of our teens. We have to restore adolescence to its normal developmental role, a time to grow, to explore, and to safely make mistakes. If we don’t, our future will be filled with fewer successes and more frequent, significantly more dangerous, failures.

Dr. Ginsburg is the author of "Building Resilience in Children and Teens: Giving Kids Roots and Wings" published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.