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Sharing Your Past With Your Teen

Top secret stampParents often worry their teen will learn about their own past mistakes. Perhaps they think their teen will repeat some of those same mistakes if they are revealed.  But I say just the opposite is true.

More than ever, kids today are in desperate need of parents who are honest and willing to be vulnerable in sharing their own failures. Teens can benefit from knowing how their parents handled or mishandled decisions when they were the same age, and what they learned from those mistakes.

Sharing your brokenness will reveal the end result of making bad decisions. And brokenness often causes one hurting person to be drawn to the brokenness they sense in another. So telling the story, and how it negatively affected your life is a great way to give your teen cause to reveal their own mistakes.

Kids won’t tell you their problems or mistakes if they feel ashamed or afraid of your response, or if they feel that you cannot relate to their feelings.

Mistakes are obviously best avoided, but a part of growing up is the understanding that nobody’s perfect, and that everybody makes mistakes – including parents. The truth can lead to a different type of discussion with your teen that is more vulnerable and open:

  • When you acknowledge your own imperfections and the lessons learned looking backward, it builds a bridge to your teenager.
  • When you blow it – admit it, and apologize to those you wronged, in front of your teen.
  • When you see your teen about to make the same mistakes as you, tell him how those mistakes hurt you and express remorse – “If I could only do it over again, I’d do it differently.”
  • Tell your teen, “You know, I’m not perfect, and neither are you….or anybody else. Making a mistake won’t change my love for you, though it will usually bring consequences.”
  • When you are wrong, just be wrong, and admit it. Don’t make excuses.
  • Assign some consequences to yourself when you make a mistake! Better yet, ask your teen what the consequences should be for your current failures.

Failing forward is an important trait to teach your teenager, since wallowing in past mistakes can lead to depression, psychological disorders and even suicidal thoughts.

Most people fail multiple times, but they can still be successful in life if they “fail forward.”  In other words, they learn something from failing and then keep on moving on. Do you allow your teen to move on, or do you keep bringing up their past mistakes?  Part of moving on comes from just expressing the mistake they made to you, instead of holding it in. Does your teen feel secure in sharing mistakes with you?

Like it or not, your children will emulate you. By being open about the poor choices you’ve made, you can make sure they’ll emulate how you would have done it differently if you could have. By your example and the remorse you express, they’ll learn a better way to deal with their own decisions and they’ll be more likely to open up to you about their own mistakes.  When a teen understands that his parents aren’t perfect, it gives him freedom to express and confess his own failings, and to also identify his own need for a Savior.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, national radio host, and the founder of Heartlight, a residential counseling opportunity for struggling adolescents, which houses 50 high schoolers. Learn more at or call 903-668-2173.

Parenting Shift in the Teen YearsLISTEN ONLINE TO THE HALF-HOUR RADIO PROGRAM ON THIS TOPIC!  Is it wise to share your past mistakes with your teen? Mark Gregston talks to moms and dads about being vulnerable with teens… and how learning your lessons can help your child learn theirs. Special Guest: Dr. Bill Zeigler. LISTEN NOW >>

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.