Help Your Teen Deal With Setbacks

Mother comforting disappointed daughter sitting on living room sofa

Here's one more way to provide a house full of green lights: It's helping our teens deal with the reality that setbacks are almost inevitable on the road to a dream.

The question isn't "Will glitches happen?" but "How should we respond when they do?" The healthy response is to learn, grow and go.

A setback might mean that a door is closed and the teen needs to look for another that's open. But it might also mean that God wants to develop perseverance, the ability to forgive or some other character quality in the teen.

Is the setback a dead end or just a detour? Drawing on our experiences with God and with life, we can help our teens tell the difference. We can also help them learn lessons the situation has to teach.

As our young people struggle with the emotions and absorb those lessons, they can grow stronger and wiser – better prepared for future successes and losses. Some wisdom can't be gained in any other way, making setbacks one of God's most effective teaching tools.

Then, when they're ready, our teens can go on to the next opportunity –  the next step in a dream that's still alive or the first step in a new one. Setbacks are part of life's journey of adventure.

That was true for Matt, the young artist introduced near the start of this series. When he entered a college art program that enrolled more students than it could train, he found the competition was tough. Professors tried to weed out those who lacked talent and motivation.

In one of Matt's early classes, he labored to please the instructor – sometimes without success. Finally, about midway through the semester, the teacher said, "Maybe you should consider transferring to another major."

Now, there's a setback in the pursuit of a dream! Many people might be crushed by such a comment. Matt could have concluded, "Surely this is a dead end, a blocked path."

But Matt believed God had given him a talent. He saw the comment as a bump in the road, not an impassable roadblock – a test of whether he could and would persevere.

He was determined to pass that test. When the next class time came a few days later, he was there with a portfolio of his best pre-college work, which he showed to the instructor.

The professor looked at drawing after drawing, his eyes growing wider with each one. Finally he closed the portfolio and told Matt with a smile, "I guess you belong here after all."

And the dream, birthed and nurtured in a house full of green lights, lived on.

Getting Started

Over sundaes at your local ice cream shop, ask your teen a few questions like these:

  • Is there anything new you've been thinking of trying – a sport, a musical instrument, the drama club? If so, how might I help you pursue that?
  • If you were to choose today how you'd like the rest of your life to go, based on your interests and the things you feel you're good at, what would that look like?
  • I'd like to be more of a "personal cheerleader" to you every day. What kinds of comments do you find especially encouraging?
Adapted from Wired by God: Empowering Your Teen for a Life of Passion and Purpose by Joe White with Larry Weeden, Copyright © 2004, Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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