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You need to let your child fail!

Posted by on Jan. 31, 2013 at 9:02 PM
  • 88 Replies
5 moms liked this

That's right. I've been saying it for years. Here's an article that sums up why rescuing your child from all of life's unpleasantries does so much damage in the long run.

Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail

A new study explores what happens to students who aren't allowed to suffer through setbacks.

fail2-top.jpgMatthew Benoit/Shutterstock

Thirteen years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, stumbling around my classroom on wobbly legs, I had to call a students' mother to inform her that I would be initiating disciplinary proceedings against her daughter for plagiarism, and that furthermore, her daughter would receive a zero for the plagiarized paper.

"You can't do that. She didn't do anything wrong," the mother informed me, enraged.

"But she did. I was able to find entire paragraphs lifted off of web sites," I stammered.

"No, I mean she didn't do it. I did. I wrote her paper."

I don't remember what I said in response, but I'm fairly confident I had to take a moment to digest what I had just heard. And what would I do, anyway? Suspend the mother? Keep her in for lunch detention and make her write "I will not write my daughter's papers using articles plagiarized from the Internet" one hundred times on the board? In all fairness, the mother submitted a defense: her daughter had been stressed out, and she did not want her to get sick or overwhelmed.

In the end, my student received a zero and I made sure she re-wrote the paper. Herself. Sure, I didn't have the authority to discipline the student's mother, but I have done so many times in my dreams.

While I am not sure what the mother gained from the experience, the daughter gained an understanding of consequences, and I gained a war story. I don't even bother with the old reliables anymore: the mother who "helps" a bit too much with the child's math homework, the father who builds the student's science project. Please. Don't waste my time.

The stories teachers exchange these days reveal a whole new level of overprotectiveness: parents who raise their children in a state of helplessness and powerlessness, children destined to an anxious adulthood, lacking the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure.

I believed my accumulated compendium of teacher war stories were pretty good -- until I read a study out of Queensland University of Technology, by Judith Locke, et. al., a self-described "examination by parenting professionals of the concept of overparenting."

Overparenting is characterized in the study as parents' "misguided attempt to improve their child's current and future personal and academic success." In an attempt to understand such behaviors, the authors surveyed psychologists, guidance counselors, and teachers. The authors asked these professionals if they had witnessed examples of overparenting, and left space for descriptions of said examples. While the relatively small sample size and questionable method of subjective self-reporting cast a shadow on the study's statistical significance, the examples cited in the report provide enough ammunition for a year of dinner parties.

Some of the examples are the usual fare: a child isn't allowed to go to camp or learn to drive, a parent cuts up a 10 year-old's food or brings separate plates to parties for a 16 year-old because he's a picky eater. Yawn. These barely rank a "Tsk, tsk" among my colleagues. And while I pity those kids, I'm not that worried. They will go out on their own someday and recover from their overprotective childhoods.

What worry me most are the examples of overparenting that have the potential to ruin a child's confidence and undermine an education in independence. According to the the authors, parents guilty of this kind of overparenting "take their child's perception as truth, regardless of the facts," and are "quick to believe their child over the adult and deny the possibility that their child was at fault or would even do something of that nature."

This is what we teachers see most often: what the authors term "high responsiveness and low demandingness" parents." These parents are highly responsive to the perceived needs and issues of their children, and don't give their children the chance to solve their own problems. These parents "rush to school at the whim of a phone call from their child to deliver items such as forgotten lunches, forgotten assignments, forgotten uniforms" and "demand better grades on the final semester reports or threaten withdrawal from school." One study participant described the problem this way:

I have worked with quite a number of parents who are so overprotective of their children that the children do not learn to take responsibility (and the natural consequences) of their actions. The children may develop a sense of entitlement and the parents then find it difficult to work with the school in a trusting, cooperative and solution focused manner, which would benefit both child and school.

These are the parents who worry me the most -- parents who won't let their child learn. 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.

I'm done fantasizing about ways to make that mom from 13 years ago see the light. That ship has sailed, and I did the best I could for her daughter. Every year, I reassure some parent, "This setback will be the best thing that ever happened to your child," and I've long since accepted that most parents won't believe me. That's fine. I'm patient. The lessons I teach in middle school don't typically pay off for years, and I don't expect thank-you cards.

I have learned to enjoy and find satisfaction in these day-to-day lessons, and in the time I get to spend with children in need of an education. But I fantasize about the day I will be trusted to teach my students how to roll with the punches, find their way through the gauntlet of adolescence, and stand firm in the face of the challenges -- challenges that have the power to transform today's children into resourceful, competent, and confident adults.

by on Jan. 31, 2013 at 9:02 PM
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Replies (1-10):
by on Jan. 31, 2013 at 9:11 PM

Yeah  I was lucky that parents would proofread it but they never would do the actual work on papers we had to turn in.   I have been struggling with letting dd figure out spelling of words when she asks me to spell them outright.  I end up using each sound made in the word so that she can figure out the letter needed.  A few times i have seen her use the wrong vowel and left it alone on the work.

by Gold Member on Jan. 31, 2013 at 10:01 PM
Completely agree.
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by on Jan. 31, 2013 at 10:04 PM
Let's hear it for natural consequences, personal accountability and do your own work.
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by Silver Member on Jan. 31, 2013 at 10:06 PM

Yep I homeschool and am always looking for those natural consequences.  Works so much better than lectures and rescuing him!

by Silver Member on Jan. 31, 2013 at 10:12 PM

I agree. It's one thing to help and support your child and another thing to do everything for them. Our kids need to realize they won't be perfect at everything and once in a while they will make mistakes that someone can't run and fix.

by on Jan. 31, 2013 at 10:16 PM
How are we ever going to learn if we arent allowed to make mistakes.....we will never take sad. I agree its ok to fail.....that is something we are workinf on right now....teaching my son to keep trying, even if he struggles, that its ok to not always win or be the best.
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by Bronze Member on Jan. 31, 2013 at 10:17 PM
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As a teacher of high schoolers who were raised in the never fail community, please do this! The entitlement of students never ceases to amaze me! I had a kid today want to know why her failed an analysis he did (because he worked really hard on it), it was junk! He barely answered any of the questions correctly! And was indignant that he received a failing grade!

There's a book by my ped called Allow Your Child to Fail if You Want Them to Succeed! Amazing work about what failure teaches them.
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by on Jan. 31, 2013 at 10:18 PM
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My children do their own homework. There is nothing that they have as homework that they didn't either learn in school or have the materials to learn at home, through a reading, so if they don't know how to do their homework, they must not have been taking very good notes in class. If they don't understand something, they know that it is their responsibility to go to the teacher for extra help, which is offered mondays, wednesdays, and fridays after school and teachers are happy to go over things during lunch and free time. I believe that the purpose of homework is so teachers can get an understanding on how well the students understand the material, so if they are having trouble, they can see that through the homework before they get stuck on a test. If they do poorly on the homework, ah well, they gave it their best, its their own work, and they can focus on what they didn't get to improve in the future. If they want a ride to the library or advise on how to research a subject or need an adults help on part of an assignment, like when my ten year old brother (three of my kids are my siblings who I'm the guardian of) was setting off explosions for a science project, I am more than happy to give assistance. But, they do their own work. Its important for them to know that they are intelligent confident individuals and they can do this, I know they can. They also cut their own food past the age of four, eat what is served with no complaints, and will learn to drive as soon as legally possible. I am raising capable adults, not babies. 

by Emerald Member on Jan. 31, 2013 at 10:35 PM


by Bronze Member on Jan. 31, 2013 at 11:14 PM

Ugh, I am struggling with this with my son this year. He is very bright and is very good about getting his work done but he is the most disorganized person. He often doesn't hand me papers that I am supposed to be getting and forgets to get his binder signed which causes him to get a 0 for that day. At the very start of the school year, his teacher explained that this year the kids would be more responsible for themselves which is great if it works. So far, I have not stepped in and he has not stepped up. He almost missed a field trip because he didn't get the form signed in time! I would never do my childs work but how far can I go with the other stuff? Is it too much to check his backpack everyday? I am sticking with it and keeping my fingers crossed that something clicks in this kids brain and he starts being more responsible for himself.

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