Are We Failing to Teach Kids About Failure?

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Apr 6, 2015

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Every time I sat down to write this column, my daughter would interrupt me with some entreaty to help her on her homework. Initially the questions were reasonable. But within a few minutes, I was being asked about every single task outlined in her assignment. Her mind eventually ground to a halt, as she vacantly stared at me, ready to record whatever answer I gave her.

This seems to be a trend. Instead of learning to find creative solutions to a problem, trying to execute on a plan, and seeing the difference between success and failure, children sit by while their parents do their homework.

One Saturday afternoon a few years ago, our kids joined a friendly neighborhood drawing competition organized by our building society. This is the kind of activity I like because it occupies my children with some trivial activity for a couple of hours and requires me to do nothing in particular other than sit in the park and stare at the sky.

The task outlined in this “competition” was simple, or so it seemed: color in a picture as best you can. The society had posted several warning messages, and society members prowled the green commons glaring at children, to ensure one thing: that the parents would not interfere and do the coloring on the children’s behalf. This surprised me, given the low stakes involved in this competition. But the more I thought about it, the more the warnings made sense. Parents can’t even stop themselves from ruining a children’s weekend drawing competition. This is what we’ve come to.

This past March, appalling images surfaced in the Indian press, showing parents and paid couriers scaling the outside of four-story school buildings. These zealous adults were hanging onto window casements as though they were a Mumbai commuter train, trying to provide their children with the answers to the test questions.

But this issue isn’t limited to the parents. Recently in the US, eleven educators were convicted in a cheating scandal because they falsified numerous student test scores during “parties,” where the teachers would sit together and change the answers to student papers to improve their scores.

This is where we find ourselves as parents and educators. We’re badly failing our children by refusing to ask them to think for themselves. Our culture of intrusive, excessive parenting, combined with schools that simply test our children instead of teach kids, is causing us to raise children incapable of thinking on their own or taking responsibility for their own education and engagement with the world. What kind of adults will they become if they can’t learn to take responsibility for their own work and feel the sting of failure?

As my daughter interrupted me yet again while I wrote this column, I turned to her and said firmly “Do your best, write neatly, and turn it in, we’ll see what happens.” In short: start flapping your wings and fly already.

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Written By Rajat Soni

Rajat is an Indian-American stay-at-home father of two girls, aged 7 and 3, one of whom was born in India. After working as a lawyer and raising his girls for several years in Mumbai, he moved to the U.S., where he became the primary caretaker for his daughters while his wife started a new job. He’s interested in exploring the role modern fathers play in the lives of their young children.

See all articles by Rajat

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