Sex & Relationships

Why kids need to fail to succeed

Are all of today's privileges actually setting children up for trouble come adulthood?

Boy hanging from a tree branch, nature, green clothes, curly hair, kids, outdoors

Masterfile

Contemporary kids have regular and early access to many things and opportunities denied to previous generations — sophisticated technology, world travel, exotic and idiosyncratic fashion choices, unprecedented personal and sexual freedoms.

Despite all that privilege, the one thing that many kids have only a middling acquaintanceship with is failure and they’re suffering as a result — worse, they’re not the only ones says teacher Jessica Lahey in a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly.

In an essay both thoughtful and blunt, Lahey, who teaches Latin, English and writing in New Hampshire, documents some of her personal and professional experiences with overzealous parents, practitioners of the black art of “overparenting,” who are engendering in their kids a kind of learned helplessness and anxiety.

In an especially disheartening example, she talks about her encounter with a parent who not only wrote a paper for her child but plagiarized the contents, leaving Lahey with a unique teacher’s dilemma — on whose head does she put the dunce cap?

Lahey makes the persuasive argument that these over-amped and permanently hysterical fathers and mothers, by not allowing kids to engage and commit and make their own mistakes, which includes accepting responsibility and subsequent consequences, are strip-mining their children’s inner resources, leaving them unable to fend for themselves or cope with the inevitable failures and obstacles that life holds.

She cautions parents against falling into the trap of, for example, “taking the child’s perception as truth, regardless of facts,” and warns against being too, “quick to believe (their) child over the adult.”

If your nine-year-old chronically forgets his running shoes on gym day, don’t always rush to deliver them for him — unless you want to encourage him to develop a sense of entitlement. Children, she says, need to experience consequence if they are ever to learn responsibility.

No one wants their children to learn the hard way — by subverting their early experience of minor failure, ironically, that is exactly the outcome we are insuring for their future.