Parents: Please Let Your Kids Learn to Fail

Earlier this year I wrote an “Open Letter” to parents about sports and their children. Even though I don’t have kids of my own, I was the kid on the team whose parents never interfered, mostly because they were busy working.

On the flip side, as a former coach I basically saw three types of parents:

A.) Overbearing parents who either wanted to relive their glory days by living vicariously through their kids

B.) Parents who think their son/daughter is the best pro prospect since sliced bread and will be a FULL RIDE COLLEGE PROSPECT (Before they even hit puberty I might add)

C.) Awesome parents who know that their kid will learn core values and learn to really love competition

The funniest thing, the kids who usually went on to compete at the college level – their parents, for the most part, were really awesome and hands-off. I wonder if that is a coincidence?

But the overall message I was trying to convey is similar to the message I want to share today:

Parents, please, please, please, let your kids fail.

When I was a kid (Sounds like my Grindaddy) my mom wasn’t a grade boss. She set standards and she expected us to behave well in school. If we got a “C” she told us we could do better and that was the end of the story.

However, what she really taught was respect for teachers. Any disrespect, even if we were associating with the wrong people and just a bystander, was not tolerated. End of story.

Other then that, it was our grades and our education. It was up to us to do our homework. She didn’t have homework hour or email our teachers 24/7. She saw our grades when we got our report cards. She wasn’t on the parent portal checking every grade and emailing our teachers when we had a missing assignment.

THAT WAS OUR JOB.

And I wish I could convey the same message to the parents of today.

Grades are not an end all be all.

I can wrap this up in two sentences as to why this applies to Money Life Wax (A personal finance blog, even though the “Wax” does encompass a little bit of everything).  

Because of college competition and the thought process that a degree equals success in life, parents and kids alike, are very much grade focused. Nevermind real learning and skill development.

And with rising college costs and student loans, some are even more concerned about grades. The paradigm shift has occurred.

Out is learning real-life skills, emotional intelligence, conversing, small group work – everything is about grades.

Blame big data. Blame school systems, even though schools are scurrying to shift learning to student-focused and student-led. But really, there is no one to blame. And honestly, it’s not about blaming.

Like personal finance, ownership in school needs to come from the students, not the parents, teachers or schools.

Can I retake my test?

If I was a parent right now I know exactly how I would respond to a poor grade. First, here is an example of what shouldn’t occur, but sadly does:

1. The student does some of the classwork, completing 50% of activities and group work.

2. Outside of class, the student doesn’t review notes.

3. The next day student doesn’t complete activity to assess mastery of prior class material and waits for the teacher to go over. In fact, a student actually plays on the phone when going over.

4. Student shows up for quiz without completing test review, and bombs test.

And then here is what happens next… Parent emails asking for a retake and why the student didn’t do well, sometimes even stating the teacher must have done something wrong.

As silly as this might sound, unfortunately, it has become all too true. I get it, not all teachers are perfect. And there are two sides to every story.

But there is no denying that teachers and parents are constantly on top of kids making sure they did this, and did that, instead of maybe just letting them fail a little. Teachers feel the pressure from parents and kids feel it from both.

Then the reactionary society wonders why epidemic proportions of mental health amongst adolescents is skyrocketing – another story in itself.

But a simple question solves it all: How did you learn not to touch the hot stove as a kid?

Either you were told, or you were told and you touched it anyway and quickly learned not to do it again.

The same can be said for life. Because failing or learning from mistakes is NOT a bad thing. And let’s be honest, there is redo’s in life, but not every time!

Why Failing is Good. 

Cultivating the perfect environment with zero turmoil or strife can actually do more bad than good. Let us all face it – life will happen to everyone. Everything is not always 24/7 fun. Doing things that suck sometimes is just part of life.

I say it all the time, but I wish I could say we saved $150,000 instead of paying off $150,000 in student loans.

While yes it sucks, it is what it is. But I am glad that values like hard work, losing from time to time and not always getting my way were instilled in me early on. Same with my wife. It taught us problem-solving and work ethic.

I had a friend recently talk about how at a recreation event where kids were supposed to pick numbers on their own for a game, 9 in 10 parents helped kids every step of the way. She thought maybe her instructions were incorrect, in reality, helicopters were just flying around…

Let them learn. Let them try. Let them discover. Let them fail. And most of all, let them grow from it all. And what I wish I could tell most parents who struggle with this is failing is not a bad thing.

Usually, in the real world, poor effort correlates highly with poor performance. And when great effort is succeeded by poor performance, then there is merit in that effort. Learning from struggles is a great way to become a highly functioning self-sufficient adult.

let your kids fail

How can we help the younger generations?

I make the silly joke often, but what if I wanted to shed some pounds at the gym?

Would dressing up, showing up to the gym, and just watching others workout do what it takes to lose the extra LB’s? NO.

In fact, that sounds idiotic. But as I watch some kids sit and think the answers will fall from thin air, engulfed in Fortnite and Instagram, I can’t help but wonder how many adults do the same thing.

(Side note: I actually don’t take cell phones because what is that teaching students in life? At 19 no one is swooping in to monitor cell phone use. That and I don’t want to be liable for a $1,000 iPhone)

I mean their behavior, for the most part, is learned. And when poor behavior is rewarded, well that is not necessarily good for adulting.

Being an adult is not always easy. I am not the type to propose problems without solutions. But then again the solution isn’t something crazy usually. It might be as simple as letting kids fail. Or maybe it is not letting the 28-year-old millennial use the family cell phone plan anymore.

Maybe it means not paying off credit cards for our kids who run the bill up because we know we are rewarding a really bad habit that could hurt them in the long run.

Let kids fail and work backward.

I can’t speak for everyone and I know there are circumstances that outside of a one size fit all dictate how some things are done.

But it starts by working backward. What do you want your child to turn out like? Or maybe you are 25, what do you want to turn out like?

Then ask, is what I am doing going to get me or my child to that point?

Is having the teacher write their homework for them in their agenda at 16 going to help them get to work on time in 2 years? Will the college professor write their homework in their agenda?

You may laugh, but it happens.

Think of how you want your future adult to turn out, and do your best to be loving and supportive, but let them grow on their own. Not every interaction with life needs to be micromanaged.

And let them learn to eat some dirt and fail from time to time!

Q: What could you add that could help the future adults in the “adult world?”