Why it’s important to let our teens fail

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In our family, we have a running joke about timekeeping, which came about because our daughter has always operated in a way that is more lastminute.com than ‘early bird catches the worm.’

The joke is that our teen should never join the emergency services because the siren would sound and she’d be calling, “I’ll be there in a minute!”

Being under-prepared

There is, though, a serious point here. Being unprepared or disorganised not only puts the individual concerned under pressure; it can also place a burden on others.

If your child is late for school and you’re driving her, you’re going to risk being late yourself. At the other end of the day, her having forgotten to take her key means you have to leave work early to go home to let her in.

There are other examples. I wonder if they are familiar to you?

  • Not having the necessary PE kit ready (which puts pressure on others to lend theirs)
  • Discovering the list of ingredients required for a cookery class only on the way to the supermarket to purchase them the night before they are required (meaning we duplicate what we already have in the cupboard because we don’t have time to go home first and measure out the quantities)
  • Having to pay a next-day-delivery charge for a new item of clothing (adds unnecessary cost to a purchase that could have been done many days before)
  • Forgetting to send a calendar invitation for an appointment, then finding that the parent you were relying on to take you now has other plans

In spite of reminders that are intended to be helpful, we still seem to sort things out at the 11th hour. Why?

Safe fails

Yesterday, I was with a very dear friend whose twin boys I am privileged to call my Godsons. As the mum of an older daughter who also has a teenager in the same year as my own, my wise pal pointed out an obvious truth that hadn’t previously occurred to me. That is, every time you sweep in and solve a problem for your offspring, you’re preventing them from having a learning experience.

We need to let our kids fail in a safe environment, so that they are better equipped to cope when we aren’t around to pick up the pieces.

Helicopter parenting

As a working mum, I’ve never hovered over my child, anticipating her every need. However, in wanting to be supportive, it could be argued that I’ve been a little bit too eager to step in to facilitate or solve a problem. In so doing, I’m potentially preventing my teenager from learning a valuable lesson.

Living with the consequences

So, what’s the worst thing that can happen if she doesn’t have her PE kit? In the lower school, she’d have got a detention. In Sixth Form, she might be resourceful, but she’d still have the inconvenience of sorting out the problem herself.

What if she doesn’t have her cooking ingredients? She’ll have to explain herself. This is potentially embarrassing but might make her think twice about not being adequately prepared.

Independence is not neglect

When our daughter was little, we adopted a little saying, “Independence is not neglect.” But I seem to have forgotten this now that she is older. I wonder why?

In spite of this, I am occasionally (pleasantly) surprised. Today, she tells me that she not only completed the short piece of research for her French homework, as required. She printed it 7 times (one for each member of the class and a copy for the teacher). She also provided an English translation on the reverse of each sheet and hole-punched each one so it would slot into everyone’s folder. This was totally unprompted and no-one else in the class had done it. If you can figure that out, you are a better person than I.

Maybe the highly-organised gene hasn’t completely skipped a generation. I’ll live in hope.

Plus, maybe I’ll let the odd thing slip from now on. After all, if we don’t make mistakes, we don’t make anything. And that’s a valuable lesson for us all.


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