How to Let Your Kids Make Mistakes and Learn



As your children grow, how you parent and who you are as a parent is likely to evolve. Especially as they become teenagers. The societal debate over the right balance of parenting - helicopter parenting or free-range parenting — ultimately is a personal decision when it comes to what’s right for your parenting style, your family, and in some cases, each individual child.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall on, there’s one thing all parents have in common: our children are going to make mistakes. With the best interest of our hearts, it is tempting to shield our kids from any wrongdoing, but let’s face it — it’s going to happen — and sometimes, it’s okay. At any age, and especially as pre-teen and teenagers, by allowing them to make decisions and have experiences good or bad, kids understand consequences and learn how to be accountable, adapt, and move forward from a situation.

The result is hopefully stronger confidence — and better decision making in the future.

Whether it’s in your teenager’s physical daily life or with their online activity, here’s how to let your children make mistakes - and learn.

Use your child’s mistake as a teaching moment. When it comes to social media, it’s inevitable that your teen/preteen will make a mistake. Maybe it’s saying the wrong thing or posting the wrong photo. Here’s where a big teaching moment comes in. Using behavior you want them to exhibit toward others as they mature, talk about what was said or done, and learn from it together. Don’t hesitate to punish, if necessary, so they understand there are sometimes consequences to their actions. (A teen without their phone will learn very quickly.)

Use these moments to teach your child the art of the apology. When a child makes a mistake, hurts someone’s feelings or acts rudely, whether it’s intentional or not, they not only need to stop the behavior, they need to understand what it is like to be remorseful, and apologize. The kid in trouble may not think something is a big deal, fully understand what their action represents, or the impact it has on another person. Encouraging your teenager to think about their actions and apologize to anyone impacted, will teach them respect - and earn them respect.

One parent’s example is of her teenager’s first exposure to social media and Instagram. A friend posted a picture with all of their buddies hanging out at someone’s house, only her son was not invited. His knee-jerk reaction was to lash out at these friends, in writing, by commenting on the photo. He said some pretty mean things to his friend because he was so hurt that he was left out. The mother regularly monitors her children’s social media activity (with easy to use apps such as DijiWise), and saw the exchange the next day. She sat down and talked with him about it, and helped him sort through his very real anger surrounding the first time he truly felt excluded. In this situation, he learned how to handle it better and how not to put unkind words on Instagram or other social media networks. At first, she had him remove the post, followed by a public apology to the friend online. She then had her son meet his friend face-to-face to talk about what happened. During that conversation he learned the situation of the photo, which in fact had taken place while he was out of town, so he wasn’t left out after all. Water now under the bridge -- an important learning moment.

Use real-life, relatable examples of mistakes you or others have made, and what happened as a result. Share a personal story, or an example of someone he or she may know, even a celebrity or public figure. Add these real-life lessons into daily conversation so your child can see consequences of making mistakes, especially ones that include online activity or social media. By doing so, your child will understand they’re not being singled out, and that just because it happens elsewhere, doesn’t mean it’s okay. This will also help your teenager continue to mature into an adult who is respectful of themselves and of others, responsible in their daily interactions, and who practices online safety and digital responsibility.

Just remember, we’re not failing as parents when our kids make mistakes. It’s human and we make them, too. Most of us didn’t grow up with social media (or the Internet for that matter), so it is difficult to truly understand what kids go through today. Finding a good balance between helicopter and free-range parenting when dealing with our kids’ daily lives and social media usage will empower them with the knowledge and ability to make good choices and hopefully avoid “the talk” next time.