He tried to decide well. He talked to his parents and tried to foresee the consequences. He thought about it, not hastily jumping to a conclusion; maybe he even prayed. But there was no clear right or wrong and no precedent to which he could refer in his short life.
He tried to decide well. But he chose wrong, and now he’s faced with managing a whopper of a mistake.
We could have chosen for him, but he’s old enough now to make his own decisions. (We may not have recognized the best decision anyway.) He’s old enough now to learn from both good and bad situations.
So what can we, as parents, do now? How can we walk our teen through the aftermath of a bad decision? How can we coach him (or her) to manage mistakes?
Help your teen work through his situation with these steps. (If you’re facing a similar bad decision, these steps work for us parents, too, by the way.)
4 Steps to Managing a Major Mistake
- He must “own” his mistake: “Yes, I did this. Yes, it was wrong. Yes, I accept the consequences.”
Our teen must admit his error and accept the natural consequences that follow. This is not the time to lecture but to comfort, to gently peel away the excuses and blame-casting. Help him see the connection between his decision and what followed (and may still follow). Help him look for anything he can learn that will help him in the future. This is wisdom: learning from our experiences!
- He must apologize to the wronged parties: “I’m sorry. I messed up.”
In whatever way is appropriate (although face-to-face is best), help him create the space to apologize. In admitting he was wrong and asking for forgiveness, this bad situation can begin to heal—for everyone involved.
- He must forgive himself: “God loves me. I am forgiven. I can learn. I can change. I am valuable.”
Yes, he made a mistake, but our lives are never summed up in one decision. Let him know he may laugh at this whole situation one day. Encourage him to consider the value of learning from a mistake and becoming better equipped for the future. (This is a “growth mindset.”) If appropriate, share an “epic fail” from your own teenage years. He will see that you’ve recovered from your error and that you’ve gone on to have a full life. But hey! Don’t lie. If your bad decision still affects your life, let him know, and point Him toward God’s faithfulness even through your consequences.
- He must move on: “I will not be defined by this one decision. I can and will continue with my life.”
At our house, we call this step “nail it and press on” (from an AIA camp years ago). If forgiveness looks back toward the mistake, “nail it” looks forward toward a better future. It’s easy for our teens to get emotionally or spiritually stuck at their mistake. We can help them take that intentional next step. Ask something like, “Where do you want to go from here?” We (the parents) must not repeatedly return to his mistake. Sure, there will be times to remind him, but we can’t pick up the hammer and keep nailing. Keep moving forward with him.
It’s inevitable that our children will make mistakes—some of them doozies! If we handle their mistakes with maturity and coach them through the process as well, we’re equipping them for adulthood where (as we all know) mistakes continue to pop up in our lives.
You probably don’t want to embarrass your teen by sharing one of their big mistakes, but we would appreciate any counsel on how you helped them walk through it. What did you say that elicited a positive response? What should the rest of us not say to our teens at such a time? Please share in the comments below.