Early educational reformer John Dewey said it best: "Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from failures as from successes.”
Failure is not a bad thing; instead, it is a certain and unavoidable part of learning. When used constructively in a safe environment, failure can be a master teacher for teen learning. Students who are not successful can benefit from feedback and learn how to get better.
The Challenge For Parents
It may seem counterintuitive to want your child to fail or to set them up for failure. The truth is that giving young people a safe space to fail is one thing parents can do to set them up to be lifelong learners. In fact, failure teaches young people more about themselves than most successes do. The stereotypical helicopter parent seeks to do just the opposite – hovering over their child, attempting to soften the blow of any potential failure. And why wouldn’t they? Kids are only kids once, and the desire to shield them from failure and the associated ill feelings makes sense from the people who care for them the most.
Benefits of Failure
Two characteristics of lifelong learners are persistence and grit. The lifelong learner does not quit after one failure and uses failures or perceived failures as motivation for success. In the long-term, failure can help young people recommit to their goals. They will learn to refocus and continue to work to achieve a result. In the short term, they will learn how to manage their emotions while working and reflect on their progress. They will begin to acquire the skills and motivation needed to become lifelong learners. Failure teaches young people to take responsibility for their actions and teaches them to maintain a sense of humility.
Failure also teaches young people to depend on their parents and teachers for guidance. While they are young, it is essential for students to identify and rely on mentors. Giving students the opportunity to depend on others at an early age will help them to acknowledge and admit to failures and seek out ideas for bouncing back.
A Safe-Fail Space
The first step to creating a safe-fail space is creating room for your child to fail. Quite simply, this means not cushioning failures or avoiding them altogether. It may mean encouraging your child to take a challenging course in school or to try out for a team they may not make. To have a safe-fail space, failure must be a possibility.
The next element of safe failure is ensuring that the failure is survivable. Don't set your child up for failure or push them to fail in a way that you know they will not be able to rebound from in some way. As a parent, part of this is teaching them skills to take calculated risks. Let them know that it is perfectly fine to take a risk or take on a challenge that may not achieve success, but teach them to know their limits. Failure does not need to come at the cost of your child's safety or self-esteem.
The last thing you can do to make sure that your child is growing up in a fail-safe space is to let them know when they have failed. From an early age, you can encourage your child to face failure. Avoid the desire to rename failure or ignore that it happened. Instead, teach your child to acknowledge their failure, determine how it happened, and think of possible ways to be successful in the future.