Question: Our 17-yearold son is obsessed with a fear of failure. So much that he is withdrawing from normal activities and afraid to try new things. How can we help him?
No parent wants to see their child overwhelmed by the shame and embarrassment of failure. We want our kids to be successful. So, with good intentions, many parents do homework and class projects for their kids, and make decisions for them and “protect” them so that they can “succeed” in life.
The tragic reality is that when we shield our kids from failure we are also shielding them from invaluable life-lessons that are essential for growth and maturity. We are raising kids who may go through life crippled by their fear of failure and inability to learn from mistakes.
One of the greatest gifts you’ll ever give your son is the gift to value and learn from his mistakes. Start by sharing some of your “best” mistakes and what you learned from them.
Open your Bible and show him some of the many stories of people who did stupid and sinful things, and the different outcomes of those who learned and those who didn’t.
Whenever possible, avoid solving and resist rescuing, even when he makes mistakes or choices that weren’t the best. Reward the risks he takes by acknowledging his courage. Congratulate him when he succeeds but be even more enthusiastic when he learns from a failure. You can help him understand that the ultimate failure is the inability to learn from our mistakes.
You can help him learn to look at failure through the lens of Scripture. In John 10:10 Christ said, “I have come that you might have life, and that you might have it more abundantly.” In Ephesians 3:20 Paul describes God as one who wants to do “exceedingly abundantly beyond all we ask or think.” In Philippians 4:13 Paul tells us that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. Those are great promises. And they are true.
Anything that is painful or makes us feel unworthy—mistakes, setbacks, selfi shness, anger, cruelty, memories of injury or abuse—can be the fodder for feelings of failure or provide the raw materials for a stronger foundation and the opportunity to see God do some of His best work.
You’ll have fun watching your son discover the amazing truth that things that initially seem to be setbacks may be just the opposite. What apart from God feels like a failure can, in His skilled hands become a part of His provision for our growth. A theology of failure is an essential ingredient of growth and maturity and will equip him to be and become the kind of man God has designed him to be.
Oliver is the executive director of the Center for Healthy Relationships. He can be reached at GOliver@jbu.edu.