Teaching Teens to Handle Rejection
Everyone faces rejection in life, and teens can be particularly sensitive to its pain. Teens have less life experience to know how to cope with rejection, and are more prone to feel embarrassed about almost anything, so rejection can feel more like an “end of my life” failure. Rejection in a teen’s life can be big or small. Perhaps your daughter did not get invited to the prom or your son didn’t make the sports team. Or maybe your teen is devastated that her friends didn’t save a seat for her at lunch or that the girl he asked out said “no.” Whatever the source of the rejection, in that moment, your teen feels unaccepted.
Rejection hurts. But it is a normal part of life and impossible to avoid completely. The key is to teach your teens some positive ways to cope in the face of rejection. Learning to cope is a healthier life skill than trying to avoid rejection because people who become too afraid of rejection hold back from going after something they want. They may spare themselves the possibility of rejection, but they are sure to miss out on what they want because they won’t even try.
As teens learn to deal with rejection, they develop better coping skills, which is setting them up to become a healthy, successful adult. Here are some skills to teach your teen to better cope with the sting of rejection:
Tell your teen to be honest as they move through the pain of rejection. They don’t need to pretend that it’s not painful. Initially, it’s healthy and normal to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and sadness rejection can bring. Encourage your teen to talk to you and name their feelings. For example: “I feel really disappointed that I didn’t get chosen for the cheerleading squad. I practiced so hard, and I wanted to be on the team so badly. I feel left out because my friends made it and I didn’t.” Parents should be reassuring. Tell your teen about a rejection you once faced and how you overcame it. Remind them that everyone feels rejection at different points in their lives.
This may be the hardest thing to teach your teen. Once they have acknowledged their feelings and had a couple of days to experience the sadness, it’s time to move on. It is all too easy for people to get caught up in their bad feelings and have a pity party, but dwelling on those negative feelings can make them relive the experience over and over. Negative thinking influences our expectations and how we act, so it can limit their ability to embrace the next opportunity and/or possibly invite more rejection. It’s time to start thinking positive! Remind your teen that they do not need a specific person, team, opportunity, etc. to make them happy. These things bring temporary happiness, but they are not permanent, and when one opportunity is closed, it gives them room in their life for a new opportunity.
It is perfectly natural to wonder, “Why did this happen?” And, this can be helpful in learning something from the experience, but be careful. Our thoughts can quickly creep into self-blame or criticism. Teens are prone to exaggerating their faults or believing things about themselves that isn’t true. Encourage your teen to stick to the facts when they are thinking about the rejection. For example, if your son asked a girl on a date and she declined, then the fact is that the girl did not want to go out with him. Don’t allow your son to say, “I got turned down because I’m not attractive” or “I’m such a loser.” And do not allow your son to project his future based on this experience. Thoughts like, “I’ll never get a date” or “No one will ever like me” amplify a simple rejection to disaster level. Rejection can hurt a lot, but it’s not the end of the world. Instead, encourage your teen to give themselves a pep talk. Explain to your teen that we all have an “internal voice” – things we say to ourselves inside our minds. When your teen realizes their internal voice is expressing negativity, suggest they speak encouragement to themselves instead. Help them to focus on positive experiences they have had in the past and set goals for positive experiences they will have in the future.
Help your teen view the rejection from all angles. Everyone gets rejected, but your teen can learn from the experience. Your teen can feel proud that they took a risk. Remind your teen of past experiences where they were successful and that they will have new opportunities in the future. And, help your teen recognize that there is another side to the story. There may be a good reason for the rejection.
A rejection is a chance to consider if there are things we can improve about ourselves. This is an excellent opportunity to consider what went wrong this time and determine a better method or approach for next time. A rejection can help you identify where you may need to work – maybe improving skills, techniques or experiences. Maybe your teen didn’t give the opportunity their best effort, and they have learned they need to try harder to succeed. Or maybe they realized that they need to have a better attitude to improve their chances. Sometimes a rejection has absolutely have nothing to do with them – their skills and attitudes were great, but it just “wasn’t meant to be.” In that instance, the experience can help nudge someone in a new direction that is a better fit for their talents or personality. Don’t let your teen miss the opportunity to be self-reflective when rejection knocks – it can make them a better person.
No matter who you are, rejection will happen now and then. Trying to avoid it will limit your life’s experience, not improve it. Instill confidence in your teen by teaching them to cope with rejection in a positive way. Suggest stress-relieving tips to help them get through the difficult times. Remind them that getting good sleep, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly are excellent ways to cope with stress. By learning from their rejection, your teen can approach the future wiser and more fortified.