Learning Life's Lessons the Hard Way

Teens make mistakes – sometimes dangerous ones. So it’s important for parents to keep perspective, be an ally and help them learn how to move forward.(Getty Images)

From school suspensions to traffic citations, teens can get into a boatload of trouble. And it’s inevitable that adolescents are going to make mistakes and some are going to be doozies. But as a parent, how do you handle it when your teen gets into big trouble?

My son, for example, recently received his first traffic ticket; he was pulled over going 30 mph over the speed limit! Hence, the inspiration behind this piece. Right after getting the ticket, he called to tell us what happened, so, fortunately, I had some time to get my emotions in check before his arrival home. In truth, when he dropped the bomb, I felt frustration seeping in and started to undergo some form of transformation, like Bruce Banner turning into the Incredible Hulk. After a few deep slow breaths, I was able to get my emotional self and my rational self in sync, and that helped put the situation back into perspective.

Perspective is something parents can easily lose sight of when it comes to our kids. For some strange reason, our kids seem to know just how to push all our buttons at once. When that happens, it’s easy to blow our tops, which doesn’t solve anything, and in fact, can make matters worse.

When my son told us about his ticket, I quickly gained perspective by reflecting on my experience in working with adolescents. I thought back to talking with parents whose kids had been in a tragic accident that resulted in a severe life-changing injury or worse – a fatality. I remembered sitting in funerals where precious lives were taken because of an accident. It didn’t take too long for these memories to remind me that the situation could have been far worse than an expensive ticket.

Going a little farther down memory lane, I remembered a young naive 17-year-old girl flying past a highway patrol officer going 25 mph over the speed limit. Yes, guilty as charged, I too had a similar violation to my son’s at a similar age. I was holding my son to higher standards than I held myself. Like many parents, I didn’t want him making the same mistakes that I had made. I was projecting myself and my choices onto him, and that wasn’t fair, because he’s not me.

Odds are as parents, if we take a walk down memory lane, we’ll recall some boneheaded mistakes that got us into a lot of trouble, too. Personally, I learned a lot from my lead-footed incident. I learned that it takes a lot of hours working overtime at a part-time minimum wage paying job to pay off a speeding ticket. It was a tough lesson, and I had to learn it the hard way. And sometimes our teens have to learn things the hard way, too.

Aside from our past, think about the courage it takes for kids to tell their parents what happened. Thinking back, I wonder which was worse for my son: calling home or getting the ticket itself? When it comes to fessing up, many kids will go to great lengths to prolong telling their parents what they did, because they either don’t want to put stress on their parents or disappoint them. Or in my son’s case, he knew to call ahead and allow us some time to process the information before coming home. Regardless, here’s the plain simple truth: We all make mistakes, and our children are no exception to the rule.

Given that, here are seven things I’d recommend (including what not to do) to handle your teen’s big mistakes:

Teens are going to make poor choices. Whether they get into trouble with the law, get pregnant, wreck the family car, lose a scholarship or end up on academic probation, they are still our kids. What’s most important is that they know we love them regardless of what they have done.

Don’t lose sight of all the awesome and terrific things they do in life. Their good acts almost always outweigh the bad ones. Sometimes our kids have to learn life’s lessons the hard way, and that’s OK. In many situations, our kids don’t need to be rescued, they just need us to be there, because life experiences can be the greatest teacher of all.

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Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, Contributor

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, Ph.D., NCC, LPCS, GCDF, is a professional counselor and internationa…  Read moreRaychelle Cassada Lohmann, Ph.D., NCC, LPCS, GCDF, is a professional counselor and international author of numerous books, including “The Anger Workbook for Teens,” “The Bullying Workbook for Teens” and “The Sexual Trauma Workbook for Teen Girls.” Her works have been translated in over six different languages. Raychelle has expertise in a wide range of issues affecting adolescents, from anger and aggression to anxiety and depression to sexual abuse and bullying. She also writes the “Teen Angst” blog for Psychology Today. Raychelle attended North Carolina State University, where she received her B.A. in psychology, her M.S. in counselor education and her Ph.D. in counseling and counselor education. With over 20 years in the counseling profession, Raychelle has devoted much of her time to working with children, adolescents, parents and educators. She is passionate about what she does and strives to live out her personal mission statement of “helping others transform their lives from the inside out.” To learn more about Raychelle Lohmann, visit her website or connect with her on Linkedin and Twitter.

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