Ep. 67: The Hidden Secrets of Teenage Success

Ep. 67: The Hidden Secrets of Teenage Success

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Episode Summary

Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure and storied educator, shares the secrets of what makes teens successful in academics, at home, and in the world. If your teen does fail, Lahey knows where to look to find the silver lining.

Full Show Notes

Are you are paralyzed by the thought of your teen failing? What if they never pass French or Algebra 2 or bomb their piano concert?

As parents, it’s hard to watch your kids mess up, especially when if they had just listened to your suggestions in the first place they wouldn’t be stuck in a hole they only seem to be digging deeper.

But rather than throwing down a rope to help them climb out of that hole, maybe there’s a better way to help them out.

In our interview this week with Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, we talk about just that. A storied middle school and high school educator for more than 20 years (and mom to her own teens), Jessica has seen it all: from student outbursts in class to pens thrown at her head to lockers that are so full you’d need a crowbar to wedge out the mess of binders, papers and textbooks.

In addition to her decades in education, Jessica has spent years researching the most effective techniques to use with teens, or as she sometimes refers to them “people in progress.” Her tactics to help teens learn from failures are all based on the science and psychology of teens’ developing brains. Executive functioning, like organization and emotional regulation are still developing in teens, which is why parents (and teachers and coaches) all have a part to play in raising future adults.

In addition to learning how to help your teen learn and move on from failures, you will discover:

  • The fine line between “social jostling” and bullying
  • How to correct your teen’s mistakes to avoid repetitive errors
  • Why and how middle school is a “set up” for teens to fail
  • The importance of identifying your teens signals
  • How to institute a routine “clean out” to promote organization in your teen


Jessica’s book is everywhere—I even found a copy in bookstore in Argentina!—and I’m so excited to be sharing her expertise with our listeners!

The 28-minute public version is free to listen to, and the 54-minute extended version, packed with extra goodies, is reserved for site members. Log in or start a free trial to access everything our site has to offer!

Parenting Scripts

Word-for-word examples of WHAT to say to your teen

1. When you identify a “signal” of your teen’s, bring it up with:

“You know how last time when you hauled off and hit your sister across the head and you said you didn’t even know why you did it? Well this time I noticed that you were really fidgeting a lot and maybe that can be a way for you to notice that you might just be about to haul-off and hit your sister and maybe that would be time for you to instead sort of have a little talk with me or someone else why you might be feeling that way.”

-Jessica Lahey

2.  Instead of repacking the dishwasher after your teen does it, bring them back and say:

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Workbook Exercises

Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview

1.  Identify Your Teen’s Signals:

A big part of becoming a functioning adult is learning emotional regulation. As Jessica Lahey notes in our interview (and as any teacher or adolescent expert will tell you!) teens are in the stage of brain development where they are just learning to manage their emotions. Part of our role as parents is to help teens learn strategies for regulating their often intense emotions!

Jessica suggests one way to do this is to make your teen more conscious of their “signals,” or the things they do or say before reacting in a “knee-jerk” way.

In our interview Jessica gives the example of a brother whacking his little sister in annoyance. Perhaps the parent notices that brother gets extra fidgety right before this happens. Next time mom or dad notices a behavior preceding another, they can bring it up to the teen to begin to make him conscious of a subconscious “signal.”

Think of three times recently when your teen has performed a behavior you disapprove of, paying particular attention to any physical displays such as slamming doors, breaking or throwing things, spitting, screaming, slapping, punching, shutting down, sequestering themself in their room, etc.. What actions did your teen take immediately before those unwanted behaviors? There might be a different “signal” for screaming and a separate signal for throwing their phone across the room. It can be something verbal or nonverbal such as the fidgeting teen in our example. Do your best to keep paying attention and identifying your teens “signals” over the next week or two. Once you have one or two figured out, bring it to your teen’s attention the next time you start to see the behavior unfold. It will be important to explain that you’ve noticed that every time they do X it means they’re just about to do Y.

2.  New Year, New Teen:

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About Jessica Lahey

Jessica Lahey is an educator, author, and podcaster. Her book Gift of Failure has practically become canon in the movement away from helicopter parenting toward a mentorship model. Her second book, The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence is due out in April 2021. In the meantime Jessica keeps busy with speaking, being a mother, and writing for publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Atlantic. She is also the co-host of the Am Writing podcast, where she discusses and interviews other writers on all the stages of producing the written word and tops and tricks for getting it all done. You can hear Jessica on the Am Writing Podcast wherever you get your podcasts.

Want More Jessica Lahey?

You can find Jessica on her website as well asTwitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.