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“Help! My Teenager Failed A Math Test!” Dealing With Failure

Dear Your Teen:

My 15-year-old son recently failed a math test. It just feels like too much is at stake now that he’s in high school. Should I ask his teacher if he can re-take the failed test? How can we deal with failure?

EXPERT | Mark McKee, Ph.D.

Your job as a parent of a teen is not to challenge the teacher. If your son failed a math test, he failed a math test. Rather, you should talk to your son about what he can do the next time around to prevent this. That’s what it means to deal with failure.

Perhaps he needs to study harder. Perhaps he needs extra help in this subject. You could also encourage your teenager to talk to the teacher to see if he could earn some extra credit.

But a conversation with the teacher needs to be handled by your teenager, not you, and it should be proactive rather than reactionary.

Help Your Son Learn How to Deal With Failure

Making mistakes is part of life and it’s vital that teenagers learn how to handle their mistakes and move on. Your son can learn a lot from this particular mistake, if you let him. It allows him to say, “I did this and this was the result.” He can reflect on whether the way he prepared for this test was his best effort. It allows him to understand consequences and to problem solve.

As I mentioned, he could talk to the teacher, study harder, get extra help, etcetera. Importantly, it will also push him to make a different choice the next time around and to take accountability for his actions going forward.

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These are the kinds of skills parents need to be teaching. But if you save a teenager from these little failures, they’ll never develop them. And that will hurt your son much more than the grade on this particular test ever could.

Dr. Mark McKee is a psychologist in Naperville, Illinois, and author of Raising a Successful Child. Read Dr. McKee’s blog at

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