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Mistakes During the Teen Years: An Essential Tool for Growth PDF Print Email

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By Jane Benjamin, PhD, Clinical Director, The Counseling Center


Apr. 17, 2018:  Parents often tell their teenage children, “I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”  But giving them the freedom to make mistakes, and face the consequences, is a key to good parenting, and to raising healthy kids.

It’s natural to want to spare our children pain, both physical and emotional. In early childhood development this protective instinct is focused on keeping a child safe in the most basic ways: “Don’t run…you will fall.” “Don’t touch the stove…it’s hot and you’ll get burned.”  “Don’t go anywhere with a stranger…” etc. And of course, this protectiveness is essential for a child’s safety; it’s a basic responsibility of good parenting.

We live in an era of raising safe children. Homes are “childproofed.” There are helmets for every sport, railings on young children’s beds, no peanuts allowed in most nursery schools. In this emphasis on safety lies an embedded message: If you do everything right, your child should not get hurt; pain is preventable.

Things become more complicated when a child becomes an adolescent. As the basic safety needs of childhood become less salient, other more complex issues take their place: Is my son developing healthy relationships with peers who are “good kids?” Is my daughter taking responsibility for her academic life? Are drugs and alcohol becoming a problem? Are my kids acting responsibly in response to their burgeoning sexuality? The list goes on and on. But unlike in the early childhood years when the parent’s role as protector is fairly straightforward, the parent of an adolescent has a far more complicated job.

For the adolescent, making mistakes is essential. Adolescence is the developmental period when separation from parents and identity formation are the critical tasks. Adolescents need to experiment, to “try on” different sorts of relationships, different behaviors, and different identities. Naturally, this experimentation will lead to their making mistakes, both small and large.

The adolescent will learn a great deal from these mistakes. Indeed, teenagers have to learn what they aren’t in order to learn what they are. A bad relationship will help a 16-year-old get clear about what kind of partner is truly desirable. Failing to study for a test, and thus “bombing it,” may motivate a 15-year-old to begin to study earlier next time. Being unkind or unfair to a peer, and seeing the hurt feelings that result, might make a 13-year-old feel guilty and decide to apologize. Drinking too much and feeling lousy the next day might encourage a 17-year-old to see that alcohol isn’t so cool after all.

Stumbling gives teens a chance to learn how to make amends for a mistake and to “own” the consequences. How does one apologize? How does one take responsibility? How can the teen’s gut feeling that their action was a mistake begin to build that internal moral compass that is so essential throughout life? The adolescent must bump up against adversity in order to develop as a person, and parents should resist the natural temptation to shield their child from these bumps at any cost. 

So what should parents do when their kids make mistakes? The answer is not to condone the behavior or the decision. This is not about having no rules and being overly lenient and permissive. It is about assuming that rules will be broken, pushed, and circumvented that and consequences must follow. It is about assuming that one’s adolescent will make many wrong choices. And it is about knowing that these mistakes are not the result of a parent’s failure.

The most critically important thing any parent can do is to hear what happened ... and not just from another adult but from the teen. Truly listening and questioning are paramount. The parent should not try to fix the problem for the teenager ... but help the teenager come up with solutions that he or she will implement. Sometimes it helps for the parent to share a similar mistake that he or she made in the past or to suggest another way of looking at a situation. Maintaining communication with the teen is the most helpful thing a parent can do. If a parent only blows up and punishes, the message is really twofold: 1. Mistakes should never be made and 2. Don’t come to me with your mistakes because I will not listen.

There is nothing easy about being a parent of an adolescent. The key lies in anticipating that teens will stumble ... not because something is wrong with them but because healthy development depends on it. 

At the Counseling Center of Bronxville, we help parents and teens solve problems, wrestle with painful or confusing feelings, and navigate through difficult times.

Pictured here:  Jane Benjamin.

Photo courtesy The Counseling Center 
 
 
Editor's note: As a public service, MyhometownBronxville publishes articles from local institutions, officeholders, and individuals. MyhometownBronxville does not fact-check statements therein, and any opinions expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the thinking of its staff.
 

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By Josefa Paganuzzi, Thompson & Bender, for NYP-Lawrence Hospital Jul. 24, 2019:  Dr. Ugo Paolucci has been named stroke director of NewYork-Presbyterian Lawrence Hospital. Dr. Paolucci, a leading vascular neurologist,...

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The Maxwell Institute of St. Vincent's Westchester offers outpatient chemical dependency treatment and education services for adults, adolescents and their families. Treatment includes individual and group psychotherapy, couples counseling, and psychiatric evaluation and medication management when indicated. The Institute welcomes individuals and family members who are experiencing marital and/or work-related distress as a result of alcoholism and other forms of chemical dependency.

The Maxwell Institute also offers community education services through its programs in drug and alcohol prevention in the schools. For persons wishing to become credentialed alcoholism and substance abuse counselors (CASACS) in New York State, the "Maxtrain" program provides the 350 classroom education hours that are an important part of the credentialing requirements.

The Maxwell Institute is grateful for the support of The Community Fund of Bronxville-Eastchester-Tuckahoe.

92 Yonkers Ave
Tuckahoe, NY 10707
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www.stvincentswestchester.org/maxwell

 

 

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Founded in 1971, the mission of the Counseling Center “is to provide a wide range of psychotherapeutic and counseling services to individuals, couples and families by a staff of highly trained, experience and dedicated psychotherapists.
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180 Pondfield Road Bronxville,
New York 10708
914-793-3388

www.counselingcenter.org

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Bronxville, New York 10708
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Bronxville Dental Care

Jenny A.  Kanganis, D.D.S.

Guy N. Minoli, D.D.S.

Since 1994, Dr. Kanganis and Dr. Minoli of Bronxville Dental Care have been leaders in the dental community, providing exceptional dentistry to generations of Bronxville families. They have a long history of excellence and have earned a reputation built on trust, compassion, and dedication. Drs. Kanganis and Minoli believe in a conservative, holistic, and minimally invasive approach to dentistry. Bronxville Dental Care welcomes patients of all ages and offers a comprehensive range of services, including cosmetic and restorative dentistry, implants, and pediatric dentistry. Dr. Kanganis especially loves treating children. As a mother herself of two recent Bronxville High School grads, she understands the importance of helping children to feel comfortable during their visits, while earning their trust and teaching them to become active participants in their oral health.

20 Studio Arcade

Bronxville, New York 10708

(914) 337-6536 
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44 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, New York 10708
914-337-3863


Dr. Quentin M. Murphy

77 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, New York 10708
914-337-1004


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777 Post Rd.
Scarsdale, NY 10583-5000 
Phone: 914. 472. 9090 
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Dr. Michael J. Vitale

1 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, New York 10708
914-337-8430

 

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77 Quaker Ridge Road
New Rochelle, New York
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ENT and Allergy Associates
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New York Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital

In July 2014, Lawrence Hospital and New York-Presbyterian Hospital established a new relationship aimed at enhancing care, improving access and lowering health care costs for residents of Bronxville and surrounding communities in Westchester County. Lawrence was renamed New York-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital.

Lawrence Hospital Center was founded in 1909 and is a 291-bed acute care facility with over 1100 employees and 400 physicians. It provides emergency care to approximately 35,000 individuals every year.   It became a designated New York State Stroke Center in 2006.  Its physicians provide expertise in virtually every area of medical specialty and include over 100 primary care physicians. And, Lawrence delivers about 2000 babies every year in the home-like setting of newly designed Labor and Delivery recovery rooms.

Outpatient services include diagnostic testing and laboratory services, ambulatory surgery options, and rehabilitation and sports medicine services. The Hospital has a Women`s Imaging Center where female patients receive diagnostic services in a private setting. Outpatient physical therapy, lymphedema therapy, speech and occupational therapy services are provided both on-site at the Hospital and at Lawrence`s satellite center, The Center for Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, in Scarsdale.

The Hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. The Hospital is fully licensed by the New York State Department of Health. Lawrence`s laboratory is accredited by the College of American Pathologists.

55 Palmer Avenue
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Dr. Anne Galloway

77 Pondfield Road
Bronxville, New York 10708
914-337-4986


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14 Studio Arcade
914-779-9066


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700 White Plains Road
Scarsdale, New York
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4 Studio Arcade, Bronxville, NY 10708
Bronxville, New York 10708
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Bronxville Women's Care, Pllc
One Pondfield Road, Suite 302
Bronxville, NY 10708
914-337-3715

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55 Park Avenue
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1 Pondfield Road
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77 Pondfield Road
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Westchester Health Pediatrics (formerly Children’s Medical Practice of Bronxville)
1 Elm Street
Tuckahoe, New York 10707
914-337-7474


Scarsdale Pediatric Associates
2 Overhill Road Suite 220
Scarsdale, New York 10580
914-725-0800


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495 Central Avenue
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