Rejection hurts at any age but teens often feel it more keenly, especially when it concerns a coveted place on the team. Losing out and disappointment are part of life and hard lessons we all need to learn along our journey. As parents, it’s our role to guide our teens through the situation, bearing in mind that how we react is likely to have a long-lasting effect on them.
Keep Emotions in Check
In this kind of scenario, parents often experience strong emotions, including sadness, anger and disappointment, but it is important to keep a reign on any strong feelings you might have. For example, the coach might be the biggest buffoon going, but questioning or arguing their decision is not going to do your teen any favors at all; blaming the coach is only going to show that it is okay to look for a scapegoat or find excuses, rather than accept the situation for what it really is.
Empathy and concern are normal and understandable. However, if the emotions you are experiencing have less to do with how your child feels and more about how you feel, or if there is a sense that the failure is somehow a reflection on you, then you need to take a step back. Some parents react vehemently because they feel personally rejected: often our kids are an extension of who we are, and when they get overlooked or turned down, some may feel it as keenly as if it was them on the receiving end.
Don’t Invalidate Their Feelings
In some instances, parental reactions might swing in the totally opposite direction than above, perhaps coming across as nonchalant or uncaring. Although our experience tells us that not making the football team is going to make very little difference in the long run, your teen is more than likely devastated.
Give them time to accept the decision and let them know you are there if they’d like to talk. Show them you understand and care, and perhaps offer some examples of when you also faced rejection and how you coped. Whatever you do, don’t play down their feelings or tell them that life goes on, as this will only invalidate any intense feelings of disappointment they might be experiencing.
Help Them Understand Why
Often, kids can sit wondering why they didn’t make the team when their friends did. If your teen is bewildered by the decision, it might be a good idea to arrange a time to talk with the coach. However, this is an opportunity for your teen to hear why they didn’t make the team and not the chance for you, or them, to get hostile, accusatory or angry.
Use the meeting as a learning curve; sometimes the sense of rejection can be lessened if your teen understands why they missed out, and more importantly, where they need to improve to be able to make the team.
Don’t Let Them Wallow
Although it is important (and natural) for your teen to express their sadness and disappointment, it is often easy for them to wallow or dwell on not making the team, finding it hard to bounce back after a rejection, and maybe even losing all interest in the sport they once loved.
While they will inevitably need time to come to terms with what’s happened, they have to learn to move on from it. Help them see how rejection can actually be beneficial and spur them on to be better; get them to remember how it feels to lose out and how they can use that as a way to motivate them.
Dealing with a teen who is experiencing rejection is rarely easy, but remember, how you deal with it is often just as important as how they deal with it!