Advice on Parenting: Let Your Kids Fail

Tim Elmore with Students Who Have Learned to Dress the Part

Thought I’d come back from a somewhat extended paternity leave (more on that at some point) with a post about good and bad parenting. Over at the Huffington Post’s parenthood portal, Mickey Goodman asks if we are raising a generation of kids who are essentially helpless. As a professor here at Messiah College (and even when teaching in graduate school at Virginia Tech) I have experienced helicopter parents firsthand. My parents almost never stepped in to side with me against a professor or teacher. The only exception I can recall was when they got a teacher in junior high or early high school to bump my negative(!) quiz score up to a zero. I still managed an A for the marking period, so I wasn’t too scarred. Some of my students, however, seem to expect that either they or their parents can make any bad grade disappear. This doesn’t work with me, nor is that attitude likely to go over well on the job once they leave the academic world.

Goodman quotes Tim Elmore, who heads a company that attempts to help students self-motivate and prepare mentally for the “real world”, a world where success rarely comes overnight, they are not rewarded for showing up, and they are not excused for mistakes. Here are some of what Elmore thinks we get wrong, and how he suggests we fix it:

Where did we go wrong?

• We’ve told our kids to dream big – and now any small act seems insignificant. In the great scheme of things, kids can’t instantly change the world. They have to take small, first steps – which seem like no progress at all to them. Nothing short of instant fame is good enough. “It’s time we tell them that doing great things starts with accomplishing small goals,” he says.

• We’ve told our kids that they are special – for no reason, even though they didn’t display excellent character or skill, and now they demand special treatment. The problem is that kids assumed they didn’t have to do anything special in order to be special.

• We gave our kids every comfort – and now they can’t delay gratification. And we heard the message loud and clear. We, too, pace in front of the microwave, become angry when things don’t go our way at work, rage at traffic. “Now it’s time to relay the importance of waiting for the things we want, deferring to the wishes of others and surrendering personal desires in the pursuit of something bigger than ‘me,'” Elmore says.

• We made our kid’s happiness a central goal – and now it’s difficult for them to generate happiness — the by-product of living a meaningful life. “It’s time we tell them that our goal is to enable them to discover their gifts, passions and purposes in life so they can help others. Happiness comes as a result.”

The uncomfortable solutions:

“We need to let our kids fail at 12 – which is far better than at 42,” he says. “We need to tell them the truth (with grace) that the notion of ‘you can do anything you want’ is not necessarily true.”

Kids need to align their dreams with their gifts. Every girl with a lovely voice won’t sing at the Met; every Little League baseball star won’t play for the major leagues.

• Allow them to get into trouble and accept the consequences. It’s okay to make a “C-.” Next time, they’ll try harder to make an “A”.

• Balance autonomy with responsibility. If your son borrows the car, he also has to re-fill the tank.

• Collaborate with the teacher, but don’t do the work for your child. If he fails a test, let him take the consequences.

“We need to become velvet bricks,” Elmore says, “soft on the outside and hard on the inside and allow children to fail while they are young in order to succeed when they are adults.”

You can read the whole post here.

2 comments on “Advice on Parenting: Let Your Kids Fail

  1. You don’t realize how difficult parenting is until you become a parent! There’s a world of distance between “making babies” and “raising children”.

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