I think one of the most challenging things about being a parent is watching your child struggle with something. Whether that would be having a hard time with math, having a big fight with a best friend, or not getting into a college your child was hoping to, it is very heart wrenching to watch our kids hurt. I often come in contact with parents, either through my profession or in my personal life, who are trying to minimize the uncomfortable pain their child is feeling or to erase that pain all together. I understand the feeling of wanting to rescue our kids when they are struggling, it makes it seem better but truly we are keeping them from building the skills they will need as adults to persevere when things are tough or even how to deal with difficult feelings during times of struggle.
An awesome book, “The Gift of Failure” by Jessica Lahey, is full of research that demonstrates that when we actually involve ourselves to rescue our kids, we actually are hurting them. All parents have the goal of raising healthy, confident children, but saving them from experiencing failure or struggles keeps them from learning important skills in handling challenges later in their lives. I recently began reading this book when I was searching for resources related to teenagers and GRIT. Grit to me is having the persistence to persevere despite things being hard. Honestly, grit seems to be lacking from most teens that I come into contact with. I have talked to groups of kids about pushing through hard things and not giving up whether it be on the basketball court, in speech class, or taking a test. More and more kids want to throw their hands up and be done when the going gets tough. This characteristic will not prove them well in adulthood and it concerns me more than their academic success, their grade point average, or their class rank.
I spend much time trying to determine why this persistence doesn’t exist with most of our teens. What has brought us to this point? I’m certain there are many factors but one that is so interesting to me is the role parents play in their children having persistence. Today’s stakes are very high for students who are pursuing college. More and more colleges and universities are wanting students with the highest GPAs, class ranks, and proof of students taking the most challenging courses. Because of this reality, I believe it causes parents to put the pressure on our kids as well. However what comes along with this pressure, is the parent’s refusal to allow failure to happen because the stakes are too high to allow this.
Many teens today fear any failure. Parents become over involved in an effort to keep their child from experiencing failure and as Jessica Lahey shares in her book that the setbacks and failures that parents have shoved out of the way of their children’s paths are the necessary experiences that teach our kids how to be resourceful. persistent, and resilient. So many times when our kids fail, we personally feel as if we have failed. Not only are areas of our kids lives very competitive but parenting has become very competitive and judgmental. There have been times when my own kids have said, “ if we decide to do this or that what will people say or think?”. This concern drives so much of what our teens and other parents choose to do rather than making decisions to do what is right for them.
So while many of us would agree that our children really need to be independent, persistent, and resilient, it then is necessary for us to take a step back and allow our kids to find their own way. As Lahey shares, failure is a necessary and critical part of our children’s development. These failures end up being opportunities in disguise. They teach our kids how to make adjustments and also allows them to see that they are capable and competent to work through any difficulty. Lahey shares research that children who have parents who don’t allow them to fail are less engaged, less excited about education, less motivated, and less successful than those children with parents who allow them to experience difficulty. So many parents wonder that by backing off, what is most important to do? Lahey shares that parents should focus on encouraging their children to embrace opportunities to fail, find ways to learn from the failures, and create positive relationships with the other adults in their children’s lives. While I certainly find that this isn’t an easy task and I still have plenty of times that I fight with myself to keep from getting involved, I do relish in the times when my own kids have been so proud and feel confident when overcoming a difficult time in their lives. Parenting is full of questioning yourself and just hoping you’ve done good enough for your kids. What a great feeling it will be as we watch our kids create happy, fulfilling lives.