Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail
You see, teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.
I’m not suggesting that parents place blind trust in their children’s teachers; I would never do such a thing myself. But children make mistakes, and when they do, it’s vital that parents remember that the educational benefits of consequences are a gift, not a dereliction of duty. Year after year, my “best” students — the ones who are happiest and successful in their lives — are the students who were allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.
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I have worked with some of the smartest, most highly educated people on the planet and have been astonished to find them paralyzed with doubt simply because they don’t know how to deal with the prospect of failure.
I am completely baffled by that concept, and I don’t mean that flippantly. I liked school quite a bit — I had wonderful teachers, I could read at an early age (I was an obsessive reader and library patron), and math was my strong suit. But I was, and still am, a lazy student. Even when I research something within an inch of all known facts, I wait to the last minute to work on the actual project. (I can’t tell you how many times I sat down to write a two-page Spanish paper — that turned into a four-page one — at midnight when it was due at 9a the next morning. And then there was the time that I waited so long to get the books for my 300-level Philosophy class — as in, the Saturday before the paper was due on Monday — that almost nothing was available so I grabbed what I could get and changed topics midway through reading and writing.)
I have always known that this is my fault. And it is. It’s my fault that I didn’t start earlier and it’s my fault that I haven’t done much to change my very bad habits. I know that where I am in life and all my disappointments are all due to me and my failures. I know that I fail in something every single day and that I fail far more often than I succeed — probably a 90/10 ratio.
Then there was when i was trying to figure out what to do about college. I didn’t really think about what I wanted to do with my life and the only thing that interested in me aside from math (and i wasn’t going to study that all my life, especially after failing to do well in Physics) was architecture so I looked into those programs. Again, I failed in making wise decisions because I chose to apply to three schools: one i’d never get into, one i’d never go to and the SUNY school I’d most likely attend. Only this time, I had daily reminders from my father who called me with a new reason why I should not be an architect. His reasoning truly came from a place of caring — he did not want me to struggle like he felt he had — but the underlying message was the same for each one: “you are not capable of doing this. it is hard and you will not be good enough.” Mind you, he wanted me to be an engineer because, MATH.
So I split the difference and took both architecture and engineering classes my first semester. Then I dropped both paths the following semester and meandered my way to the MOST LUCRATIVE MAJOR EVER: Spanish/Philosophy joint major w/a Russian minor. What one does with that aside from the obvious job at MTV, I have no idea ;)
Part of my meandering was a dalliance with the graphic design department, encouraged by my incredibly talented friend who was well ensconced in the program. At the time, I was the production manager at the school magazine — i’d moved over from the editorial side — and I loved the design aspect of it. (We even got an honorable mention in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Awards for our cover design in which yours truly was nearly naked.) I took some classes and when it came time for my portfolio review, there were two professors, one of which was my book design prof who previously gave me some very contrary advice to what I should bring and when he asked for the project that he’d earlier said to leave out and I reminded him of that, the other professor said, and i quote exactly: “Well, it looks like the only thing you’re good at is making excuses.”
That broke me, probably harder than anything else had up to that point in my life. Because this was something i loved doing and I thought it was something that i could learn to be very good at. But no, i was not good at it. I wasn’t good at anything. Except making excuses, apparently. And I fully accepted that my inability to be good at anything was my fault, and thus being branded a failure for my entire life was also my fault. But I also didn’t crumble into a pile of dust from living a life of failure.
So when I say that I don’t understand how people are unaware of how to deal with failure in the context that they will always be successful it is because i am ingrained with the knowledge that I will always fail, and that failure is always my fault. And I try to hide the great levels of the failure I am from others as much as I can but I know it’s only a matter of time until everyone sees it.
I know that walking around with the big FAILURE sign above my head is not the healthiest of ways to live, but it’s a lot easier knowing who and what you are and learning how to live your life despite of it rather than being so attached to the idea the everything you do must be a success and falling apart at the any sign that you might fail.