Book Recommendation: The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey
For many high school students, college admissions will be the first time they are told no. When I worked for UT, every March I fielded dozens of calls from disgruntled parents.
"Is there anything we can do to change the decision?" No.
Jessica Lahey is a parent of twins and a middle school teacher. In the "Gift of Failure" she observes a disturbing trend with students in her community: they are terrified of failing. The caution and fear she noticed with her students began to emerge in her own children. She was succumbing to the same tendencies towards overparenting that were detrimental to her students.
"They were good, well-adjusted kids, but I couldn't shake the sense that when it came time for them to head out on their own and make their way in the world, they were ill-prepared."
A combination of sky-high expectations, a focus on earning grades rather than learning, and micromanaging behavior prevents a child from developing their sense of self and autonomy to make their own decisions. "We protect our kids from all threats, real or imagined."
She criticizes the high-stakes "race to the top" that starts in early childhood and doesn't end until "a six-figure income and socioeconomic upward mobility are secured."
She encourages parents to take a step back and allow their children to develop responsibility for themselves. Instead of packing their lunch everyday, let them pack it themselves. Instead of holding their hand through their college applications, let them explore their options and write their first essay drafts.
I notice the consequences of 18 years of competitive parenting. Parents and, in turn, their children are a bundle of nerves and anxiety. Being denied admission to UT or your dream school could be a chance for growth, but many students treat it as defeat and never recover.
"Failure - from small mistakes to huge miscalculations - is a necessary and critical part of our children's development. Failure is too often categorized as a negative...However, all sorts of disappointments, rejections, corrections...are all opportunities in disguise, valuable gifts misidentified as tragedy...Sadly, when we avoid or dismiss these opportunities, in order to preserve our children's sense of ease and short-term happiness, we deprive them of the experiences they need to have in order to become capable, competent adults."