Montclair-born rapper and recording artist Topaz Jones closes the MFEE — Life after High School workshop with a set of his music. Jones was also one of the speakers for the day, holding a class on pursuing what you love called “Living your Passion.”

by Andrew Garda

Failing is OK.

That was just one of the many lessons both teenagers and parents heard from the many speakers at MFEE’s Life after High School Conference, held at Montclair State University on Saturday, Jan. 6. For the kids, they heard it from local rapper Topaz Jones in his “Living Your Passion” lecture, or from East Side Mags’ owner Jeff Beck at his “From Comic Fan to Business Man” discussion.

The parents heard it early and often in the opening panel, “Parents as Transition Guides: How to Support Your Teen in 21st Century Life.” That discussion, led by MFEE’s Ghana Hylton, often talked about how not to fear your young adult’s failure. Tessa Vining, a psychotherapist who works with adolescents, young adults and their families at the Mindsoother Therapy Center in Livingston, said it was important to let them fail now, in a safe environment. “Allow them to make choices, allow them to fail in a town where they have people and places to support them,” Vining said. The point, Hylton added, is to give them agency so they can figure out how to handle problems on their own.

Tessa Vining (center, left) makes a point about allowing your kids room to fail on their own while you can still help them with the repurcussions during Saturday’s “Parents as Transition Guides” panel at the MFEE — Life after High School workshop. Other panelists included Carol Churgun of the Cope Counseling Center (left), Diana Cusumano of the JED Foundation (enter, right) and Helaina Altabef of (far right)

When not focused on helping parents handle when to give their kids freedom and how, the panel delved into handling their kids’ use of technology, recognizing and supporting their kids’ unique talents, and modeling stability and confidence for kids through their actions. Individual panels afterward centered on some of the same themes.

For the teenagers, the message was similar, couched a little differently. While their seminars covered many disparate topics, each one seemed to work to drive home the idea that there is no one path to success; it’s good to take chances, and even failing can be a positive thing.

Speakers also mentioned how to listen to and “recognize support when you have it.” Jones pointed out that he never would have followed his passion to rap if it hadn’t been for one of his teachers — John Garzon at Renaissance Middle School — pushing him.

Ultimately, though, Jones said, “It’s up to you to succeed.”

Saturday’s event was all about making sure the kids knew they had the power to do so.