When Your Teen Messes Up Royally: 6 Things to Remember

Every teenager has the capacity to mess up no matter how "good" they are

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: When Your Teen Messes Up Royally: 6 Things to Remember

If we’re being completely honest here, there have been more than a few times I’ve been totally perplexed, furious and downright embarrassed by my kids’ mistakes.

Like the time my oldest snuck out of the house at night to meet up with a few friends down the street. Or the time my middle daughter invited a few friends over and before she knew it, the kids were sneaking alcohol into our home. Or, how about the time my youngest tried to cut a few corners on his Spanish homework in middle school so he cut and pasted an answer his friend gave him only to find out later the answer was filled with profanity (a joke his friends still laugh about).

Oh, there are plenty more “mess-ups” I could share – these are merely a few of the highlights. 

In the heat of the moment, my initial reaction was to pound my kids with questions.

What were you thinking?”

How could you be so stupid?”

Haven’t I taught you better than that?”

Somehow, despite wanting to totally lose my ever-loving mind, I inherently knew to take a step back before I reacted.

Maybe because my parents approached my (many) mistakes as a teenager with a gentle hand. Maybe because I remember what it feels like to mess up as a teen. Or maybe it’s simply because I know my kids are generally good kids and they have a ton of learning yet to do. 

When your teen messes up royally, which let’s face it, they’re bound to do at some point, take a big deep breath and remember these few pointers. You’ll be doing yourself, your teen and your relationship a whole lot of good by approaching the situation with an extra dose of grace and understanding. When your teen messes up, remember these things:

When Your Teen Messes Up Royally: 6 Things to Remember


1. Every Teenager Has the Capacity to Mess Up Royally (No Matter How “Good” They Are)

The road to adulthood isn’t easy – it’s filled with potholes and detours and winding blind curves. Hands on the wheel, not always knowing where they’re going or which road to take, our kids are trying to find their way one day at a time. They’re figuring out how to adult. They’re craving more independence with each passing year desperately trying to convince us and themselves that they don’t need us telling them what to do at every turn.

Bottom line, they’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to make us wonder where we went wrong. They’re going to push a few boundaries and test the waters – it’s just what (most, not all) teens do. They may look all grown up with their size 11 shoes, deep voices and “I don’t need you” attitude, but we have to remember they’re still little on the inside. We should not only accept the fact that our kids are going to make mistakes, we should expect it. 

2. Behind Every Mistake is a Lesson

The evening my middle daughter allowed friends to enter our home with alcohol she knew she breaking our rules. She knew she messed up. She knew there might be hell to pay when my husband and I found out. But she didn’t have the strength or confidence to stand her ground and turn them away. She flat-out crumbled in the face of peer pressure.

What she learned is that life’s greatest failures have a way of teaching us important lessons. As a result of her royal mess-up she became far stronger, she started to stand her ground and from that day forward, she never allowed herself to succumb to peer pressure ever again.

When your teen makes a mistake, look for the lesson. It’s not what they do when they fall, it’s what they do when they get back up. 

3. Your Teen’s Mistakes Don’t Define Them

It’s important to remember that our kids’ teen years are a small blip on their life journey. 

Don’t allow one minor mistake (or even a few mishaps) rob your teen of their confidence or their ability to see through those mistakes as valuable life lessons. 

Note: There may be instances when a high school violation ends up on your teen’s transcript which might require an explanation when applying to some colleges. If that’s the case, encourage your child to be open and forthright about the violation. Never lie or bend the truth on a college application. Although 89 percent of colleges claim they take high school disciplinary action into consideration, most are actually fairly forgiving, depending on the violation.

4. Your Teen’s Brain is Like a High-Performance Car… Without Breaks

Most of our kids’ behavior – even the most exhausting, frustrating and bewildering parts – can be explained by the massive changes happening in their brains. From taking risks and their impulsive behavior to throwing caution to the wind and jumping into emotionally-driven decisions – they’re all byproducts of their under-developed prefrontal cortex (the logical part of the brain that ponders consequences).

As a mom, I learned this the hard way. I found that my kids – all three of them – were fully capable of making crazy, out-of-character mistakes. That, coupled with the fact that they hadn’t quite developed the ability to stand up to peer pressure and they were hugely impressionable meant they were bound to make more than a few bewildering (okay… dumb) mistakes that made me shake my head in utter disbelief. 

5. Your Teen’s Mistake is an Opportunity to Grow Closer

Sounds crazy, right? Your teen makes a colossal mistake and I’m suggesting you use it as an opportunity to fortify your bond? Well, I’m here to tell you that it can and will help you grow closer, depending on how you approach the situation. 

You may not realize it, but your teen really wants to please you. They want you to trust them. They want and crave your respect.

So, when your teen makes a mistake that has led to a painful lesson, chances are it hits them harder than it even hits you.

You can either belittle them, pound them with a heavy dose of condescension and raise the roof with your yelling, (which will only create a divide between you and your teen), or you can sit down with them, talk about their mistake, help them get through it with you by their side and provide the support they need so they can actually learn from their mistake and move forward.

6. Consequences = A Chance to Teach Not Punish

In some cases, we have to view our kids’ mistakes as mild missteps – often the mistake itself is lesson enough and we leave them to deal with the natural consequences of their own actions. But there might be times when their mistake is more extreme – a blatant mistrust, a dangerous act or an outright attempt to break rules. In those cases, our “next step” is critical.

Crack down too hard and they’ll pull away, begin to resent you and possibly rebel, or come down too easy and they’ll quickly realize that you’re a pushover. Choosing the right consequence is the difference between teaching your child an important and valuable lesson (and preventing a reoccurrence) and setting them up for additional (possibly intentional) blunders in the future.

For more information on why harsh punishment doesn’t work with teens, read: The Five R’s of Punishment: Why Harsh Discipline Might Backfire with Your Teen.

You can also check out this post that offers tips on consequences: Disciplining Your Teenager: 12 Consequences that Work

Final Thoughts

I don’t know about you, but I started out on my parenting journey with the belief that if my husband and I were “good” parents, we’d have good, well-behaved kids. If we were crummy parents, well then… we’d have kids who weren’t very good and messed up a lot. Thankfully, the parenting world is beginning to realize just how ludicrous this belief is.

If there’s any lesson you walk away with today it’s this…your teen’s mistakes are not a reflection of your parenting. Your teen isn’t perfect. And those mistakes they’re making? Well… they’re teaching them valuable life lessons and shaping them into who they’ll one day become.

Wrap your arms around your teen, share a few stories about the mistakes you made as a teen and tell them you love them just the way they are. Above all, help them LEARN from their mistakes. 

Remember that life’s greatest lessons are usually learned at the worst times and from the worst mistakes. 

If you enjoyed reading, “When Your Teen Messes Up Royally: 6 Things to Remember,” check out these other posts!

Raising Teenagers: 10 Things You Shouldn’t Do

What Teenagers Really Need From Their Parents

4 Things Teenagers Need Every Single Day

When your teen messes up, how do YOU handle it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

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