The Gift of Failure

Well-meaning parents often structure their child’s activities to ensure that the child experiences huge doses of success. Whatever the activity, from playing a musical instrument to participating in athletics, some parents dedicate themselves to guaranteeing that their children succeed most of the time. Failure is to be avoided at all costs because it will, in their eyes, damage the child’s self-esteem. When the inevitable failure experience occurs, they shelter their child, enabling the child to develop patterns of avoiding responsibility and hardship by blaming adversity on others. Over the long term, when this child matures and is confronted with failure, being raised under this parental style dooms them to inevitable frustration, rationalization, blaming others, and low self-esteem.

Fred’s son, Carson, a first-year college student, was caught stealing in the cafeteria. Carson was suspended for a semester, but he appealed, and he and his dad met one afternoon with a Dean. Fred said, “I think you made a mistake; Carson would never steal.” The Dean proceeded to show them a surveillance tape that left no doubt; Carson clearly pilfered a sandwich and walked off without paying. Fred said, “Come on, he was obviously hungry, in a rush to get to class, and intended to pay for the sandwich later. Right Carson?” “Absolutely, dad,” Carson obediently responded. They lost the appeal. The real tragedy here, however, is that kids like Carson never get a chance to learn from their failures. They are protected so much they don’t have to face the reality of failure, be accountable for their actions, and work to correct the faulty actions that led to the failure.

Some parents not only hover over their kids and swoop in to protect them from failure, but also teach them extreme thinking patterns so they can blame failures on others. Extreme thinking – things are either right or wrong, or it’s always us vs. them – is a form of protection from failure because you can always displace the failure on the other guy. When parents raise their kids to think in these extreme ways, as adults their children will fear that others will ridicule, reject, or criticize them – or, at worst, prove to be superior in ability. This fear will make it easier to reject “the others, them,” and blame them for personal shortcomings. “I am always right; it’s always about me.”

If you fall into this trap, such self-absorption is psychologically damaging to you because you do not accept reality, or take responsibility; you have no sensitivity or empathy for others, and no social conscience; you will be unable to deal with fear and anxiety about who you are; you will try to avoid social interactions with others, including parties, giving presentations at work, or speaking up in meetings; you will sacrifice flexibility, openness, and productivity, essential elements of effective coping.

In short, parents who enable and indulge their children create adults who are largely helpless to meet coping challenges in any effective way. These victims of childhood overindulgence must avoid failure at all costs because they are not equipped to handle it; they have never been taught how. Some of them become overbearing, domineering bullies so they can hide their fear of failure. Others, feeling helpless and isolated, turn to cult groups and surrender their free will by pledging allegiance to the group’s beliefs, standards, and values.

Any way you look at it, when parents raise their children to believe that they are special and immune from accountability for their actions, they are not preparing them to cope effectively with the realities and challenges of life.

One thought on “The Gift of Failure”

  1. Amazing article 👍
    This is so true, we feel the need to protect our children but by doing so we create adults who aren’t equipped for the world ahead of them.


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