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Seven Critical Questions for Teens: Question #3 Handling Setbacks & Disapointments

April 22, 2012

The third critical question for teens from Jeffrey Leiken ( is: How do I handle disappointment and setbacks?  To me, this is the most critical of the seven questions.  In our information overload, multi-tasking, on to the next thing and totally distractable world, we (and especially teens) are not good at processing disappointment and setbacks.  Some of pretend the disappointment is not real and say things like, “I didn’t really like her anyway” or “I wasn’t really interested in that job that I interviewed for.”  Nonsense!!!  Yes, you did like, that’s why you dated for a year!!!  Yes, you did want the job, that’s why you spent several days researching and preparing for the interview.  Others of us, just simply choose not to deal with setbacks and disappointments and hope they go away.  Typically, these people sink into a subtle (or not so subtle) depression and live a life where they avoid risk and potential pain.

Here’s the challenge fathers:  Our kids will face disappointments and setbacks.  So, what is our role?  Our role is simple:  help them process through the grief.  Whenever we face setbacks and disappointments there is a predictable onset of grief.  Grief has 5 distinct stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) and sometimes the stages last a little while and other times much longer.  We need to expect these stages from our teens and help them walk through each one by simply being there and listening.  Men, we do not need to solve problems here!!!  

So, what is disappointing to teens? Let’s see:  breaking up with boy/girlfriend, failing a test, being cut from a team, being excluded from a social group, not making the play, rejections from colleges and many others.  Here’s the trick, if we do not help our teens process their grief in a healthy way they will find other outlets to feel better.  Unprocessed grief makes teens really vulnerable to bad choices on sex, drugs and alcohol.  If we are not there to help them feel better, they will find another way to feel better!!!

I mentioned a few posts ago, that my son got cut from the baseball team this spring.  He has handled it quite well, but we have seen all the stages of grief in our house.  Some anger, some depression and some denial, but he is moving forward.  My wife and I have tried to do a lot of listening this spring and I think it has helped a lot.

In life there are moments that matter more than others. Our response as fathers to the disappointments and setbacks of our children are some of those moments.  Time to “play big” men.

Patrick Donohue is a Life Coach in Oak Park, IL.  If you are interested in a complementary session to see what coaching is all about, click on the following link and get on my calendar, I would love to talk with you.  Sessions can be done in person, on the phone or via skype.  Click here:

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