Do I jump in, or let them fail?

I spoke with a parent recently who was concerned about her son’s schoolwork, and trying to decide whether to let him fail and suffer the consequences OR step in and take responsibility for ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks. 

Mother Arguing With Teenage Daughter Over Use Of Mobile PhoneThere were problems with both of these options!

So she was feeling stuck & unsure about what to do.

I hear from a lot of parents who feel this same sense of conflict, because they can see their kids struggling at school, but aren’t sure how to help.

They don’t want to jump in & rescue them, because then kids aren’t learning how to take responsibility and manage things on their own.

But they also don’t want to see them fail, and mess things up…especially when those mistakes could easily have been avoided. 

But are these really the only two choices?

As an analogy, consider your manager at work… (or, if you’re the manager, think about how you would want to manage your employees…)

Imagine that your manager had put you in charge of a new area of responsibility, and then later noticed that you weren’t handling it the way they had hoped. How would you want them to respond?

Would you want them to ignore what was going on, but continue feeling dissatisfied with your work? 

Or to jump in and take over responsibility for the task, to make sure it was being handled correctly?

My guess is that neither one of these approaches would make you very happy.

If they took back the responsibility, you would feel like they don’t trust you or believe in your ability to do your job effectively.

And if they didn’t say anything but continue feeling dissatisfied, your relationship with them will become more and more strained, and you will also run the risk of making more serious mistakes down the road.

A GREAT manager wouldn’t take either of those approaches!

Instead, they would have a conversation with you about how things are going, and collaborate with you to figure out how to approach things more effectively.

There are several steps they would take in order to make sure this conversation went smoothly, including…

1) Arranging a convenient time to talk, when you both can focus on the discussion
2) Expressing their desire to see you succeed
3) Sharing their observations & concerns about how you’ve been handling this recent area of responsibility
4) Having an collaborative discussion about what’s been getting in your way, what needs to happen to ensure you can manage this responsibility successfully in the future, and what they can do to support you in reaching this goal
5) Putting together a plan you can both agree on, for how you will manage this responsibility in the future
6) Setting up a time to check in again about your progress
7) Reiterating their belief in your abilities, and their confidence that you can handle this!

Throughout the conversation, you would feel heard and understood, and get the clear message that your manager cares about you & wants to see you succeed.

son and  mother having serious talkingWhat would happen if we approached kids the same way?

Rather than letting go completely and ignoring the problem, or jumping in and taking responsibility for fixing it, what would happen if you shared your observations and had a collaborative discussion like the one described above about how your teen can manage this situation more effectively in the future?

Rather than having these discussions in the moment you see things going wrong, when emotions are running high, what would it be like to set aside a separate time to talk when you both are calm and relaxed?

Instead of just expressing your frustration about their mistakes, what would happen if you started by expressing your desire to see them succeed, and your confidence in their ability to handle things…and then asked them to help you brainstorm some more effective ways to approach this situation? 

What if you approached these conversations with curiosity, rather than judgement? What would happen If you let go of ideas about how “he should be able to handle this on his own”, or questions like “why can’t she just do this correctly?”… and instead got really curious about how they are seeing this situation, what is making it hard for them to follow through, and what you can do to support them more effectively?

This isn’t the easiest approach to take!

It’s actually a lot harder than ignoring the situation or taking over responsibility for managing it yourself. But it’s the best way to set teens up to be independently successful.

But there are ways to make it easier.

Even with the best of approaches, it can still be difficult for teens to hear constructive feedback from their parents without feeling judged & going on the defensive. 

It’s often much easier and less stressful for them to discuss their challenges with someone who is NOT a parent or teacher. 

This is where working with an academic coach can be very helpful.

A good coach can hear the concerns you have as a parent, have an open discussion with your teen about alternative ways to approach the situation, and share some ideas with you about how you can support your child’s progress.

This can reduce stress levels for both you and your teen, and support both of you in getting the results you want with less conflict. 

If this is something you’re interested in discussing further, please click here to schedule a free consultation with me!

Next steps:

I’d love to hear what you think about the idea of addressing your teen’s problems using the same collaborative, supportive approach that excellent managers would use at work!

What similarities & differences do you see between this idea, and the way you usually address problems with your teen?

Please leave a comment and let me know.


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About the Author:

Dr. Maggie Wray is an Atlanta-based academic coach who helps high school & college students achieve their academic potential by improving their organization, time management, study skills, and mindset about school. To set up a time to speak with Maggie about how to help YOUR teen develop the skills he or she needs to thrive academically, visit or email

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