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Jessica  Lahey

Jessica Lahey

Educator & Bestselling Author of The Gift of Failure & The Addiction Inoculation, Recovery & Prevention Coach

Jessica Lahey

Educator & Bestselling Author of The Gift of Failure & The Addiction Inoculation, Recovery & Prevention Coach


Jessica Lahey speaks to parents, educators, school administrators, coaches, pastors, and community leaders about the science of learning, motivation, engagement, and substance abuse prevention, all in service to the belief that adults have the power to help kids become more autonomous, competent, connected, and fulfilled. Her first book, The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed was a New York Times bestseller and has empowered so many to strengthen home-school partnerships, support kids as they learn from their mistakes, and forge stronger, more trusting relationships with children. Her second book, The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence is the culmination of Lahey’s experience as an alcoholic with a decade of recovery, the parent of two kids, and twenty years in the classroom teaching English, Latin, and writing in every grade from six to twelve and five of those years were spent teaching in an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab for adolescents.

Jess has spent her adult life in conversation with adolescents and the adults in their lives as a teacher, mentor, mother, and education journalist. Jess trusts, loves, and supports teens and their parents, and in return, they tend to trust her back. Whether she’s talking to audiences about The Gift of Failure topics - why kids need more autonomy, competence and deeper connections with adults in order to stay motivated, learn more deeply, and become the best versions of themselves - or preventing substance use in kids, her focus is always on adolescent mental health and facilitating difficult conversations around these challenging topics.

When it comes to substance use prevention, Jess is all about evidence-based approaches. Research shows teens do not respond to scared straight and just say no, messaging and worse, these programs have been proven ineffective - counterproductive, even - in preventing substance use.

Jess offers evidence-based, effective learning and prevention resources that work. She helps teens understand how their brains work, how they learn, and why substance use in adolescence is far more dangerous than substance use in adulthood, after their brains are fully developed. She offers information about the negative short- and long-term impact of addictive substances on the adolescent brain. She explains why we tend to overestimate who uses drugs and alcohol, how much, and why our misperception drives reality when it comes to substance use. She offers concrete, practical scripts kids can use to refuse substances while saving face in social situations and adults can use to open up discussions about substance use with the kids in their lives. She helps kids and adults communicate more effectively by giving both groups language to prime the pump for conversations. Most importantly, she helps kids find the strength to believe that they are good enough, that they deserve take up space in this world and be loved for who they are and not just who the adults in their lives wish they were.

Her goal, when speaking to adolescents, is to give them a path forward without having to self-medicate their pain, uncertainty, and angst with addictive substances. She knows. She’s been sober since 2013 and she’s been to the dark, scary places both as an alcoholic and as a mother of two kids with a heightened genetic risk for substance use disorder.

Speaker Videos

The Gift of Failure

The Addiction Inoculation

How Do We Get Kids Engaged in Learning

Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence

Changing the Odds

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

3 Ways to Get Intrinsic Motivation

Learning to Let Go

Letting Your Kids Make Their Own Mistakes

Speech Topics

The Gift of Failure

Modern parenting has become defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness. We all know parents who rush to school to deliver forgotten assignments, challenge teachers on disappointing report cards, mastermind their children’s friendships or interfere on the playing field. According to teacher and bestselling author, Jessica Lahey, this “overparenting” has the potential to both ruin children’s confidence and undermine their education. By letting go and allowing children to learn how to solve problems on their own, we give them the tools to grow up to be self-reliant, confident and successful adults. That’s the Gift of Failure. Jessica reminds us that teachers don’t just teach reading, writing or arithmetic. Like coaches and others who work with children, they also teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint and foresight — important life skills that shape stronger futures. In this powerful presentation that can be tailored to parents, educators, administrators, coaches, community members and students at all grade levels, Jessica Lahey champions failure as a crucial element of long-term success. She also provides indispensable advice for handling homework, report cards, social dynamics, competitive sports and more.

The Addiction Inoculation: Raising Healthy Kids in a Culture of Dependence

Offering three different versions of this talk (for parents, educators and kids), Lahey helps make the statistics and research come alive, and includes personal anecdotes culled from over twenty years spent teaching, parenting, and mentoring kids.

Parent talk: Lahey offers an evidence-based exploration of what it means when experts proclaim, “Substance abuse is preventable.” She begins with an overview of why humans use and abuse substances, an explanation of why the adolescent brain is uniquely wired for novelty and the risk of substance use while being uniquely vulnerable to those substances in very specific ways. She will identify the major risk factors for substance abuse and explain what adults can do to overcome the weight of a given child's risk factors. Lahey offers an overview of the research as well as concrete, practical takeaways adults can use to change their thinking and behavior and begin preventing childhood substance use and abuse at home. Parents will leave Lahey’s talks feeling informed, challenged, empowered and entertained. 

Educator talk: Substance abuse is preventable, and yet only 57 percent of schools in the United States offer substance abuse prevention programs. Of those 57 percent, only ten percent are based on evidence. Lahey believes can do so much better. Lahey will detail the research on substance abuse prevention and help teachers, counselors, and administration know what to look for in evidence based, effective substance abuse prevention programs that begin in early childhood and extend through high school and beyond. Educators will leave Lahey’s talks feeling informed, empowered and entertained. 

Kid talk: Years of research on the existing substance abuse prevention programs reveal that scare tactic, “just say no” and punishment-oriented programs do not work. In fact, some of these programs actually increase the chances kids will try substances. Effective programs arm kids with real data about their brains and cognitive development the harm addictive substances can have on their developing brains and give them solid refusal skills based in inoculation theory. The more kids know about substance use, the more they can overcome the incomplete or false assumptions we all tend to harbor, such as the belief that “everyone is doing it,” and the belief that everyone else values and consumes more alcohol than they really do. Kids will leave Lahey’s talks feeling informed, empowered and entertained.

Learning from Failures at Work: Earning Competence, Self-Efficacy & Resilience While Facing Mistakes Head-On

The lessons of The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed extend beyond parenting and education, and the skill sets Jess Lahey writes about: building competence, resilience, engagement and motivation are essential for success in the workplace, especially as young adults move into their first adult jobs. Jess speaks at corporations and conventions about moving beyond workplace and personal failures by considering what went wrong, what went well, and leaving the mistakes behind while learning from them. Jess has had the opportunity to share the science and stories of The Gift of Failure at companies as diverse as Clif Bar, US Club Soccer, IDEO, Canyon Ranch, Microsoft, Google, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and at conventions such as Harvard’s Learning and the Brain and the Massachusetts, Texas, Pennsylvania and California Conferences for Women.

Building a Better Team: How Coaches, Team Captains & Other Sports Leaders Shape Team Culture, Resilience & Substance Use

Sports are an incredible testing ground for an athlete’s ability to learn from failure; to figure out what did not work, what did, and move forward from a place of learning and increased focus. Jessica Lahey, author of The Gift of Failure and The Addiction Inoculation teaches coaches and athletes that they have the ability to fuel this learning though experience by creating a culture of adaptation and resilience. What many coaches may not know, however, is they also have the ability to shape attitudes around substance use through modeling and careful selection of team leaders, who have an outsized impact on substance use in sports. Lahey speaks to teams and organizations such as US Club Soccer in order to help coaches and athletes understand the power they have to become more resilient and experienced in their sport while promoting a culture of healthy choices around drugs and alcohol for everyone, athletes and fans alike.

College is More Than a Campus: Helping College Students Gain Competence Through Resilience, Self-Efficacy & Self-Advocacy

Current college students face unprecedented hurdles thanks to the recent pandemic and mental health crisis among young adults. Consequently, many students find themselves unprepared to make decisions, manage conflict, and self-advocate effectively with the people best positioned to help them make the most of their education and move into the workforce. Jessica Lahey uses the science of resilience, competence, and motivation to help students engage in their own education while learning how to set short and long term goals in order to plan ahead for a life beyond college. Finally, Lahey weaves the science of substance use prevention into her messaging around competence and self-efficacy in order to help young adults face the challenges ahead of them without having to resort to addictive substances in order to cope. Lahey’s message is a powerful vote of confidence for young adults looking to take control of their lives and for the parents of these young adults as they struggle to find ways to let go of that control so their kids can grow up on their own terms.