In the midst of college application time, we are all focused on achievements, good scores, high grades, and other measures of a student’s performance in high school. What we tend to ignore is whether or not these same students can handle setbacks or failures. Do they bounce back? Or do they avoid challenges so as not to fail?
It may seem counterintuitive to suggest that kids need to learn how to fail, but this is exactly what many colleges are focusing on. The reason for this? Kids without the ability to handle failure will not have the optimum college experience. Worse yet, they may not make it to graduation.
It’s worthwhile for parents (ourselves included) to examine why our kids are unable to fail successfully. For many, the opportunities to fail haven’t been there. We, as involved parents, do our best to eliminate barriers and difficulties so that our kids can have joyful and stress-free experiences in the world. One new term we’ve been hearing a lot is “Snow Plow” parents. These are parents who clear the way, eliminating obstacles before they appear. Examples: calling teachers when there’s a dip in a child’s grade, visiting the administration of a school to remove our child from a difficult teacher’s class, speaking to the coach about our child’s abilities. On the face of it, these actions sound like good parenting. Sometimes they are. But sometimes they short circuit a kid’s opportunity to develop what the psychologists are now calling “grit” – more commonly known as resilience.
At Smith College, the administration has attacked this issue head on by instituting a program called “Failing Well.” Here’s what the college says about the topic on the web page dedicated to the program:
“What does it mean to fail well?
When you can fail well, the world opens up to you. There's no challenge you can't pursue, no risk you can't take, because you know how to get back up when you're knocked down. Your potential for change, for possibility, and for success as you define it becomes limitless.”
The program includes a story-telling element in which students and professors talk about their monumental failures and recoveries from them.
A recent article in Forbes Magazine talks about the personality traits of successful people and highlights the concept of grit. Angela Duckworth, a former teacher, who has been researching the issue identifies grit as… “an empowering blend of passion, persistence, and optimism ….” For some students, grit is built into their world. Those having grown up in poverty, who have witnessed domestic violence, who live in crime ridden neighborhoods develop grit out of sheer necessity. For more fortunate kids, parents have to beware not to erase all opportunities for their kids to grow and become resilient. It may be a slippery slope, but remember, if you fall down, you can get right back up.