TEENS & TWEENS
By CHARIS PATRICK
Failure is the mother of success, as the Chinese saying goes. I know it is not easy as parents to witness our children failing. However, there is great value in “failure.”
When our children encounter failure, that is when they will learn how to pick themselves up and move on, thereby increasing their level of resilience. It may sound strange, but if we let go a little more, we might be giving our teenagers the ability to learn and grow even mor e than if we were to hold on tight. When they are ready to fly solo later on in life, they will have the right skills and ability to make the right decisions.
Here’s what I mean ....
I remember when I was a student leader many years ago, I organised an orientation camp with my committee, which turned out to be a disaster. We scheduled activities too close together, and didn’t allot enough time for meal preparations and clean-up. We ended up cramming so much within a given time that the campers hardly had time even to visit the bathroom!
My alumni leaders, whom I am sure were thoroughly frustrated with us, let us lead, nevertheless. They kept us in check, and had a few debriefing sessions with us during camp and we readjusted the schedule. They gave us the freedom to lead, and the freedom to fail.
Many years down the road, I was a guest speaker at a similar camp. Again, it was a disaster, for different reasons. The student leader wrote a schedule, and the alumni leaders rewrote it. The student leader came up with a menu, and the alumni leaders changed it. While at camp, the leaders amended the schedule further. The poor committee couldn’t attempt to lead without being overridden by their seniors.
To be sure, I learned more from my failed camp than the one at which I was a guest. Having the skills to plan a camp at 16 sets the foundation for future skills to plan a project and see it through at the workplace. And failure amongst peers at 16 is much less life-changing than failure amongst co-workers at 30.
When I was a clinical supervisor for students doing a counselling degree, I wanted all of my students to fail. Not to fail my class, and certainly not to fail at life, but I did want them to fail. I tried to create a “classroom culture of failure.” They could make all the mistakes and learn from them. Then they would be less likely to ruin lives when they are professional counsellors.
What I really mean, though, is that I want my students to take risks in their academic work. And the bigger the risk taken, the greater the risk of failure. I would rather see my students fail spectacularly and catastrophically to achieve an ambitious goal than to see them succeed timidly and safely at an unambitious goal.
But I’ve found creating an environment in which students feel safe to fail to be the most difficult pedagogical goal that I have ever undertaken. A paradox that I’ve found in encouraging students to take risks and flirt with failure is that I, too, must be willing to risk my own pedagogical failures in order to cultivate a classroomwide ethos of bold, ambitious and sometimes even reckless risk-taking.
As parents, many of us have anecdotes about how from the ashes of some spectacular failures arose success that far surpassed the original aim. The history of science is filled with such stories; an experiment that went hopelessly wrong eventually led to something right, for instance, a surprising discovery.
When we forget or refuse to explain to our teens how our own successes have so often arisen from seeming failures, we adversely reinforce the mistaken notion that brilliance strikes suddenly. Brilliant insights rarely arrive in lightning-bolt epiphanies. Most successes are achieved through persistence, and often only after persevering through failures, sometimes many times over. We only succeed because of a preceding failure.
In this society of meritocracy where our teenagers’ success is often defined by how many A's they obtain, we need to provide our teenagers with the opportunities to lead, and the opportunities to fail, within a safe environment.
I bet that if you give your teenagers – both themselves and others – just a little bit more freedom to lead, then they will surprise you. Fasten your seat belt, hold your breath, and get ready for an exciting journey!
Charis Patrick is a trainer and family life educator who is married with four children.