2017-01-05 / Opinions

Guest VIEWpoint

Teach your kids how to fail


Kristen L. Rifenbark Kristen L. Rifenbark Failure is not something any of us aspire to; in fact, usually it’s just the opposite. Yet over the last couple months, I’ve heard over and over again the notion of teaching our children how to fail. What?! Teaching kids to fail! No, that’s not right, but is it wrong?

In a world where every kid gets a trophy, whether they win or lose, and helicopter parents are apparently showing up to job interviews with their children (I’ve heard stories of this!), failure is not something our kids know much about.

Now I feel as if I have to stop here and make a point that really irritates me at times. How many times have people with young children, like myself, heard someone say to them something equivalent to, “Back in my day, we listened or we were made to listen,” insinuating that spanking is the reason children have “no respect” today. I think back to the time my Grand was fussing over me fussing about car seats. She just shook her head and reminded us all that her kids didn’t have car seats, and they survived. “Grandma!” I said with exasperation, “I don’t have a choice! If I don’t put her in a car seat or have the car seat installed the right way, I’ll go to jail!” You see, from where I sit as a parent in her early 30s, the generations ahead of me “ruined” it for me. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for the protection that we enjoy from our car seats, and it doesn’t really bother me that their use is required by law. What I do have a problem with is older generations telling me that it was so much better in their day when they are the ones who then instated all of the rules and laws that I have to abide by now. Just saying.

Back to failure. We are very careful to teach our kids good self-esteem. Yet when do we teach them how to fail? The airline industry practices both good flights and bad flights. I don’t know how accurate this is, but I heard that the day before the plane landed in the Hudson River a few years ago, the flight crew and captains had practiced a water landing the day before, even though water landings are extremely rare. Even though it was undoubtedly a stressful situation, I’m sure the entire crew were thankful that they had practiced a failed flight.

At a conference I recently attended, the first speaker was a judge from Macomb County. She got up in front of a room full of people and started talking about her career as a judge for a drug court. She threw people in jail for various drug offenses, including probation violations. Then all of a sudden she got a frog in her throat. She started choking up. She started telling the audience how her daughter had the perfect life; she wanted for nothing. She was a straight-A student in high school, had been a good kid and came from a good family, yet at 4 o’clock one morning she awoke to find her daughter sobbing in her room. She described how close she and her daughter were with one another, so she was clueless as to what would bring on such a frightening scene. Her daughter told her that she had to tell her something. The judge immediately thought that her daughter was pregnant and her life flashed before her eyes, knowing that her 17-year-old daughter raising a baby would change her own life dramatically. Those fears didn’t come true. Something even more horrific came out of her daughter’s mouth, instead. “Mom, I’m addicted to heroin.”

It was beyond a powerful story. The judge completely changed the way she views drug addicts now. Addicts have a disease, no different than someone with high blood pressure or depression. The one statement that I just can’t get off my mind was the judge pleading with everyone in the room, “Teach your kids to fail!” It makes sense. She explained how her daughter lived a good life. She had everything she had ever wanted. She did excellent in school. Along the way, however, she never learned to fail. So at 17, she met a boy, fell in love and then had her heart broken. At the end of a broken relationship, she didn’t know what to do. She had never been in a real position of failure in 17 years. So she turned to drugs to help ease the pain of her first real failure.

I went through some of the Love and Logic parenting classes this fall. The creators of the system, Jim and Charles Fay, have a funny way about them. They stand on stage and speak of hoping that their kids will mess up, even praying for their kid to get it wrong. Why would they do this? Why would any parent not want their child to get the lesson they just taught right? Who would root for their child to not do their chores or to whine more? A parent who wants to teach their child to fail, that’s who. The Love and Logic system is very particular on this point. We want children to fail so that they develop healthy coping skills and because poor choices as a child usually result in relatively minor consequences, whereas poor choices as adults tend to have lasting, significant consequences.

My challenge this week, Readers, is something that might seem bizarre if you hadn’t just read this article. My challenge is to let your kids fail. Better yet, teach them how to fail. Teach them that every action they make has a consequence. Teach them good coping skills. Teach them the meaning of the word, “no.” Teach them that everyone stumbles or falls now and then but at the end of the day, the good Lord will always be there to pick them back up again. (For more information on drug addiction and how you can help your loved ones if they are addicted, visit www.familiesagainstnarcotics.org.)

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