My Kids Need to Fail

Whether it be open houses, pre-school year meet-and-greets or a P.T.A meeting, opportunities are plentiful for us parents to be as active as we wish to be at school.  For me, trying to get to everything for multiple kids can be a part-time job – one that I keenly enjoy.

My kid-centric, hyper-focus has me feeling reassured that I have clear visibility into my kids’ school day.

Against that backdrop of parental hyper-activity and visibility, I read an article posted on CoachingSearch.com by Chris Vannini.  The piece recounted an interview given by Tom Izzo, Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Michigan State, where he described qualities of players that now enter his program.

The theme of the article was the notion that kids are not being raised to face adversity.  Izzo spoke about this phenomenon in the context of athlete’s transferring from school to school.

While thinking about Izzo’s comments, I began searching my memory for a situation where any of my kids have recently faced adversity.  I honestly cannot think of any.

The first thought I had about adversity had nothing to do with my kid at all.  Rather, I thought about the sight of my son’s heartbroken teammate crying after missing a potentially game-winning penalty kick last season.

In typical Good-Bad Dad fashion, I can, however, immediately think of several instances when I’ve prevented my children from facing such adversity.

  • I made the tough call to pick between soccer clubs for my little Messi.
  • I told my son it was okay to rest on a short jog with me last week.
  • I gave my daughter the answer to her addition problem after she had quickly given up.
  • My infant daughter does not have to cry long before I rock her to sleep.

Although these cases are minor, it’s true that I’m shielding my kids from adversity daily.  After hearing about an open house at my son’s school last night, I realize that I’m not alone.

At the session, my son’s teacher explained that students will be responsible for studying for exam themselves – no open book, no study guides and no direct help from the teacher during test-time.  After all, he explained, it stands to reason that students will be prepared for the exam by studying the work they have already completed.

The idea seemed novel but questions from parents swirled –

‘Will he/she know the lessons being tested?’

‘How far in advance will materials to study be sent home?’

‘What if my son/daughter is a bad test taker?’

The uneasiness permeating throughout the room confirmed Coach Izzo’s theory – parents are now doing everything to prevent our kids from experiencing hardships.  In fact, we preemptively react to potential hardships as we’re given insight into what is to come.

Defensively, I want to think that parents have acted this way for generations.  From what I read, though, our kids enter the “real world” increasing ill-prepared to do so.  So, what has changed?

Why did protecting kids in the past stop short of the helicoptering that I participate in today?

My misguided blame is aimed directly at something that I actually appreciate – the school’s willingness to bring me in.  Having visibility to all facets of my kids’ lives gives me control and power – the driving force behind my over-protective parenting.

My parents attended quarterly conferences at my school.  I now have the opportunity to be at a school event virtually every week.

Even if I’m not physically at the building, I can check my son’s reading progress online.  I control the pace of their lunch spending virtually.  I have the teacher’s home email and phone number for classroom issues.  I am required to sign their daily lesson plans each night.

Parents are more empowered than ever before.  The unintended consequence, though, is that we’re holding our kids less accountable as a result.

Just as misguided as me blaming my helicoptering on my kids’ school for allowing me access, so too is assuming that I can’t help them learn about adversity while staying involved.

There is a way for my GBD helicopter to operate at a different cruising altitude.  For me, that means finding a proper mix of being involved and protecting my kids while allowing them to fail – and not just one time to prove a point.

I need to give them the space to independently fail often.

Elementary school is the perfect time for failure – one third grade math test will not prevent them from getting into Harvard.  Being relegated to the bench will not exclude my budding M.J. from a basketball scholarship in ten years.

Who knows, having them fail now could turn my kids into the future Iowa Hawkeye round-ballers that will smash Coach Izzo’s team of empowered whiners.

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One Comment

  1. Matt

    Life doesn’t hand out “participation” trophies. This gives the impression that all I have to do is just show up and I will be a winner. Experiencing failure is a good thing. We will never become the best version of ourselves until we push our selves to the limit.

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