Failure. Does anyone in 21st-century America really believe there are benefits to it, any lessons to be learned except by being an all-out winner? In our take-no-prisoners society, where people speak incessantly of win-win situations, is there a place for not coming out except on top?
These days, in the creative world, you have one chance to make good, perhaps two, and then your career heads down the tubes. In that segment of our society where failure should be encouraged as a means for growth, it is feared above all else.
The matter only gets more complicated when you move into child-rearing terrain.
The question of whether there are benefits to failing was tackled in a fine article in the May Child magazine, titled "The Upside of Failure" by Leslie Pepper.
The piece was prefaced by a paragraph that laid out all the issues succinctly. "Soccer coaches are distributing a trophy to every player. Parents are banning games of musical chairs at birthday parties to avoid having 'losers.' Even playground tag has become controversial. Are we creating a generation of kids deluded about their abilities and ill-equipped to cope with the real world? And what are we really gaining by spinning a protective cocoon around children, shielding them from feelings of defeat and disappointment?"
As the author noted, when winning is paramount, failure is the worst thing possible. Pepper then quoted Elisa Medhus, a physician, mother of five and author of
Raising Everyday Heroes: Parenting Children to Be Self-Reliant, who stated that "there is an increasing tendency to rescue children from adversity — from failure, from want, from challenge, from problem-solving, from frustration, and from the consequences of poor choices. The desire to shield our children from hurt seems a natural intention for any loving parent."
But, continued Medhus, if we continue to "save the day," children will "fail to develop the skills they need to save themselves. In essence, we're raising a generation that will be ill-equipped to handle life in the real world. Perhaps more important, we may be depriving children of the joy and sense of accomplishment that come from reaching a goal."
Pepper then discussed why it's important for kids to struggle. She quoted Martin E.P. Seligman, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who noted that kids "need to feel sad, anxious and angry. And if we run in and protect them from failing, we deprive them of learning." The occasional setbacks — and the disappointment — are not only "beneficial but crucial" to creating a positive self-image.
"When you act as a buffer between children and adversity, you're telling them you have no faith in their resilience," said Robert Reasoner, president of the Port Ludlow, Wash.-based International Council for Self-Esteem and a co-author of Parenting With Purpose. And, as Pepper put it, that's a devastating message for a child.