This is an excerpt taken from one of the challenges in our book “Teaching Teens To Fail: The 5 Step Field Guide For Parenting Success”.


Challenge #1

Let’s Have A Picnic!


Challenge: Ask your teen to completely plan a family picnic.

The questions listed below are things for your teen to figure out on their own.  Do not give them this list of things and tell them to plan a picnic.  This would not be allowing them to plan it, rather it would be them being your helper.  Allow them to figure these things out, but keep these things in your own mind to use later in the Process and Evaluation Steps.

  • What is required to plan this day?
  • Where will this picnic take place?
  • What route will be taken to arrive at the chosen picnic area?
  • Who will be attending the picnic?
  • What day of the week will work best for my family to go on a picnic so that everyone is there together?
  • Are there any dietary considerations that need to be addressed for those attending the picnic?
  • What food will need to be purchased for each person attending the picnic?
  • How much will the food cost to purchase?
  • How will the food be purchased?  (By whom?)
  • Is there a budget that needs to be adhered to?
  • How long will the picnic be?
  • Are there going to be games played at the picnic?
  • Is there anything else needed for the picnic that is not listed here?

We all know there are a lot of things not listed above that you might need for a picnic.  There is no mention of plates, drinks, cups, napkins, etc.  This is where the hard part comes in.

As parents, if we are to allow our teens to grow and become leaders, we must allow them to fail.  We are not causing them to fail.

We have provided a list above that outlines necessary items for a picnic.  It does not outline all of them, it outlines some.  But if you presented this list to your teen, they would probably just fill out the blanks and you would be on your way to a picnic, more than likely be without umbrellas, bug spray, drinks, plates, cups, etc.

The hardest part of this challenge for parents is to restrict themselves from supplying anything other than what their teens have supplied.  Yes, that means that you will probably have bugs buzzing around you and if it rains you will get wet.  You will also probably not have anything to drink at the picnic, no plates or silverware to use, and no napkins to clean up with.  Guess what?  That’s how your teen will learn.  Just don’t do it for them!

You are not only giving a challenge, you are also being given one.  Stay out!  Let them fail, even if you know they are going to fail.  That does not mean that you can rub it in their faces later when and if they do fail, it only means that you are allowing them to fail, and to learn from it.

Imagine for a second the baby we spoke earlier in this book.  If we never allowed our children to fall over when they tried to walk, they would not know how important learning about balance is.

They would assume that every time they were going to fall, someone would eventually catch them before they hit the ground.  Now apply that thought process to your children as teenagers.  If you do not allow them to fall, they will never learn their balance in the real world.

So as you give them this first challenge, please stay out of the decision making process.  Even if you have not planned a thousand picnics, and you know things are just not looking right.  They will thank you later!

Here is how the challenge should go:

  1. Challenge:  Give them the picnic planning challenge.  Ask them if they understand they are in charge of the whole picnic.  Let them know you trust them and that they will be the leader for this family picnic day.
  2.  Observe:  Observe them and how they react with this new task you have given to them.  You will probably get a lot of questions.  It is your responsibility as parents using the C.O.P.E.C. Training System to let them figure out the answers to these questions as much as possible.

For instance if their first question is “what kind of food should we have”, your response needs to be “you are in charge and I am sure you will come up with something wonderful”.

Their response to that will usually range from them getting frustrated with you right away and rolling their eyes at you, to them laughing at the suggestion that you are allowing them to be in charge and thinking you are joking.

They may even be confused at first if you have never let them do this sort of thing before.  Relax, and let the C.O.P.E.C. System work.  The key to observing is just that…observe – do not instruct.  They need to figure out the answers to these questions on their own.

  1.  Process:  After the planning has all been laid out by your teen and they tell you they are ready and have everything planned, ask them a lot of questions about how they feel things went. DO NOT ask them questions that have anything to do with their planning like “did you remember to get drinks, napkins, paper plates, etc.

Even if you see things they have obviously not taken into consideration for the picnic, do not in any way use this Process step as a way to “fix” the things they did not do.

Instead, you might ask questions such as:

How did you like getting to plan the picnic?

What was the hardest part about planning everything?

I noticed you were frustrated when you were (whatever they were frustrated at)…how did you overcome your frustration, or how did you work through facing that problem?

Did you like being able to take charge of this task?

What sort of things came easy to you when planning the picnic?

Of course, as they answer these questions, you will probably think of more questions.  You might even think of questions about things they bring up.  The key is to ask as many questions here as you can to understand what they are thinking and how they are acting, and not acting, during the observations you made.

Once you feel you understand what they were feeling that caused them to take the actions you observed, then you can move on to the next stage (after the picnic).  The “Process” portion is very important and must be given time so that you are not assuming you understand what they are thinking and feeling, and instead really do understand because they are telling you.  The more information you are able to extract from them in this process the better.

  1.  Evaluate:  This step should be done after the picnic takes place.  You are evaluating not only their performance in successfully planning a picnic, but also the planning process itself.  In this stage you are still asking questions, but you are also giving advice – with love.  Advice does not mean telling your teen that they did things wrong in comparison with the way you would have done them. Giving advice means suggesting that maybe next time they could do things differently based on the information they gave you earlier.

If the planning process was very hectic for them for instance, and you noticed that they handled things well even though they were frustrated, let them know.  Tell them you are proud of them because you saw how they were frustrated and you know they feel they had a tough time, and how well they handled it.  On the other hand, if they did not handle the frustration well, let them know that as well.  Tell them you think they can handle frustration better than they did and you expect more from them because they are great and made in the image of Greatness.

Sometimes teens are afraid to try because they are afraid to fail.  Let them know that you are happy they tried, and ask them if they tried their absolute best.  Did they do everything they could to make things successful?

If they answer honestly that they did their best, congratulate them – even if the picnic was a horrible failure of an event and if things did not go smoothly at all.  This step is where you get to put your two cents in.  Just make sure you are giving them credit and letting them know that they did fail (if there was a failure) and that it is ok to fail.

Don’t pretend that everything was great if it wasn’t.  Keep an upbeat attitude about yourself, even when discussing their failure and they are more likely to try and fix the failure on their own next time as opposed to not trying again because they don’t want to disappoint you.

  1.  Challenge Again:  Quickly give them another task.  If they failed at a particular portion of this task, challenge them to fix it now.  Don’t wait.  And be very clear about when. Pick a date, possibly the next weekend or day off. Ask if they had to do it over again, what they would do differently.

If they tell you they would choose a better place, or plan to bring the napkins or paper plates next time, then challenge them to plan another one and try to fix everything they feel went wrong the first time.

This accomplishes a few very important things:

  1. It lets them know not to give up when they don’t achieve perfection the first time.
  2. It shows that you still have faith in them and still see them as capable of being a leader.
  3. It allows them to have another opportunity to be seen as a leader even though they failed the first time around.

Remember to keep out of this process all the way through like you did the first time.  Once this Challenge Again has taken place, work your way through the whole process again right down through the Evaluate step.  They will look forward to these challenges if you give them often.