Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Opportunity to Fail

I recently heard a discussion about the differences between how my generation was raised and how we are raising our children. I was quite intrigued, since it was argued that we were not allowing our children enough opportunities to experience failure. I had to think about that for a while. I thought about the agony of watching my children learn to walk. They would stumble and fall over and over. I wanted to step in and help. I would find my muscles straining as I mentally "helped" them along, and eventually they learned to walk. How did they learn to do that? Each time they fell, they were able to learn something about walking and how to do it successfully.
When I was a child, children were often recognized for high academics, excellence in music or the arts, or great sportsmanship. Now, we are afraid to single these children out for fear of offending the ones who might not have been able to achieve this standard. Instead, we try to find something we can recognize everyone for. We no longer allow children to pick teams in PE, so that no child has to experience being the last one picked. Grades are inflated, and class projects are done by parents who are "helping". All of this, so that the children can feel better about their performance. What are some of the possible outcomes of this line of thinking?
  • An inflated self-esteem that is completely unprepared for failure
  • Unrealistic expectations about the world and their ability to function within it
  • A "me first" attitude about life
  • Lack of independence
I think that teaching your child how to successfully navigating failure can be more valuable than several successful outcomes could ever be. I can see where this thought of "helping everyone be a success" started out as a well meaning idea, but have we gone too far? What are your thoughts?

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1 comment:

Kate said...

Thank you so much for this. As a toddler teacher I see this so often. Parents and older siblings (even older educators) who rush to "help" a child as soon as they see them start to struggle.

I am of the mind set that children need to take risks, be frustrated and experience failure in order to learn.

Thank you again