Adolescence and the Fear of Failure

ByDr. Marshall

Adolescence and the Fear of Failure


So this morning I stumble across two articles about adolescence, one by Kenneth Ginsburg, M.D. and one by Linda Olszewski, Ph.D. I was curious about what these authors had to say, because I co-authored a book about teenagers a few years ago (The Middle School Mind) and I wanted to see what, if anything, had changed in the past three years. What struck me about their articles was their calm, patient, and relaxed tone.

The title of Dr. Olszewski’s article is “Adolescence: A Continuum of Growth.” In it, she asks that parents and teachers put aside their own anger and personal frustrations and think about the many changes that teenagers are trying to manage. Their bodies are changing, their brains are flooded with what I refer to as a tsunami of hormones that, literally, make them “crazy.” They are trying to manage a social life dominated by social media that they can barely keep up with (and about which parents have not a clue). And they are struggling to make the transition from the relatively safe zone of elementary school to the rough and tumble of middle school and high school where it is up to students to produce work for teachers who may not even know their names. Dr. Olszewski simply (and wisely) asks that we remember all the transitions that are occurring during the teen years. Yes, teenagers can be moody and difficult, but they still need our help, our support, and our understanding as they navigate the turbulence of adolescence.

Dr. Ginsberg’s article in titled “Adolescence: Designed for Failure, Recovery, and Growth.” Early in the article, he writes, “I am grateful for all the opportunities for failure I had earlier in my life. They gave me the gift of self-awareness. They taught me my strengths as well.” He sees adolescence as a time to prepare us for the realities of the real world where things don’t always turn out as we plan. And if our children don’t learn how to handle failure and disappointment in adolescence, when will they? When will they learn that success often follows multiple failures? Like us, Dr. Ginsberg is worried that we are raising children to believe that “failure is something to be avoided at all costs;” that getting an A- or a B+ is going to ruin their hopes and dreams. Adolescence is no time to instill a fear of failure; rather, it should be a time to explore, to experiment, to test our limits, and to discover our strengths. Parents must help their teenagers develop the courage to fail and not wrap them in the cocoon of serial success.

About the author

Dr. Marshall administrator

Richard Marshall earned an Ed.D. in reading and learning disabilities at West Virginia University in 1982. While completing his doctoral studies he served as an educational specialist in the Pediatric Neurology. Upon completion of his degree he became an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the WVU Medical School. After moving to Florida in 1983, he joined the faculty in the Department of Pediatrics in the College of Medicine at the University of South Florida and worked for five years in the Neonatal Developmental Follow-Up Program. In 1993, he completed a Ph.D. in School Psychology at the University of Georgia with an emphasis in Child and Adolescent Neuropsychology. Upon degree completion, he taught courses in the biological bases of behavior and neuropsychology at the University of Texas in Austin. He also served as developmental psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Austin. He and his family returned to Florida in 2001 and he once more became a faculty member at the University of South Florida. He is presently an Associate Professor in the College of Education and he is an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at the USF College of Medicine. In 2008, Dr. Marshall co-authored the Pediatric Behavior Rating Scale; in 2011, he co-authored The Middle School Mind: Growing Pains in Early Adolescent Brains (2011) and is currently revising the Handbook for Raising an Emotionally Healthy Child (2012). In addition to writing and a busy schedule of workshops and presentations, Dr. Marshall also maintains a private practice in Lakeland, Florida where he specializes in the assessment and treatment of children and adults with emotional, behavioral, and learning disorders; parenting; family therapy; and couples counseling. As part of that practice he maintains a daily blog and he co-hosts The Mental Breakdown Podcast (iTunes, Google Play Music, and YouTube) and the Psychreg Podcast. He has spoken to professional and community groups throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and South America.

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