Laura Kastner on Helping Teens Learn from Mistakes

laura kastnerDr. Laura Kastner is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Washington.  She is the co-author of several books for parents of adolescents including one of our favorite parenting books for parents of tweens and teens called: Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens.  Early this year we had an opportunity to chat with Dr. Kastner about teens, how they develop and what parents can do to support their growth.  As the new school year begins, with its many opportunities and challenges, we thought it might be helpful to share a video excerpt of our interview with Dr. Kastner where she talks about Helping Teens Learn from Mistakes.




In this video interview clip, Parenthetical facilitator, Becky, asks, “You state in your book that teens are wired to make mistakes. If that’s the case, how can parents help kids to learn from their mistakes?”


Listen to Dr. Kastner’s reply here:

“By learning we are having brain growth for problem solving, empathy, decision making, putting on the brakes in difficult situations.”


[Video Transcript ]

Dr. Kastner:

There’s that old slogan– “How do you get to Carnegie hall? Practice, practice, practice.” And that’s really what’s necessary with teenagers making mistakes. I think sometimes parents have the illusion that if they’re wholesome enough, and if they’re skilled and they’re smart enough, and their capable and they’re resourceful, that somehow, what, their teenagers won’t make mistakes? Because they take it so personally sometimes when these things happen. And we’re all having that happen in our families. We’re all going through the same thing. So, the first thing is to get over the fantasy or the hope, the unrealistic hope, that there won’t be those kinds of challenges.

So, with regard to some of these mistakes, each and every one is an opportunity for learning. You know, the word discipline comes from the Latin root disceri, which means to teach, to learn. So, discipline is part of what we do as we socialize our children and as they make mistakes around risk taking, or how they didn’t plan well for homework or for a test that is about to happen, or if they end up in a physical fight instead of using their words. All of those are opportunities to help them learn.

A good thing to do is, I call it “The debrief”. Is to review how, let’s say one of my clients got in a fight at school and got suspended. And he was actually kind of proud in defending another friend who was being bullied. Still, fist to cuffs is not the way through it. But the parents handled it really well as they reviewed with him that he was getting all steamed up and upset wanting to defend his friend and they talked about how he might have used his words in different ways or asked for help or redirected some of the attention the boys were giving this boy who was being bullied. And it was a very, very productive review. Luckily these parents saw it as a mistake that the child could learn from. And that’s what we want to do every time there is a mishap of any kind. How can we use this as an opportunity for learning? Because there is a wonderful phrase in neuroscience, it’s called “The neurons that fire together, wire together.” With all these changes in the brain, brain growth is determined by learning. Learning, learning, learning. By learning, you know, we are having brain growth for problem solving, empathy, decision making, putting on the brakes in difficult situations. All of that is what we want to have happen so they develop this brake system and so they develop some capability and decision making.

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How have you helped your teens learn from their mistakes?


Article by Becky Mather

Becky is an Outreach Specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Much of her work centers on parenting education and adolescent development. She and her husband are the parents of two young adults and a young adolescent. Becky is a Certified Family Life Educator.