The pressure to be perfect corrals kids these days into a tiny little space with no wiggle room. I see parents on the playground disallowing their children from playing on certain types of equipment because they're worried they'll fall and hurt themselves. I constantly hear about parents who practically steer their children's education because they want to increase the chances for a prestigious college admission.
I was born nearly 43 years ago. I never felt the enormous pressure to succeed. And if I was told not to do something because I might hurt myself, it's exactly what I did. I remember climbing a tree when I was six years old during a church outing. I saw other kids climbing up to a low-hanging branch and jumping off of it, giggling in delight.
I decided I wanted to jump off that branch, too. So I climbed up that tree, stood on that branch, and jumped. And jumped, and jumped. My mother stood there watching me, admonishing me to be careful. On the last jump, I landed on the ground too low. My knee hit my chin, forcing my mouth shut, and my teeth collided. One of my bottom teeth was already loose, but that knee into my chin knocked it out, and I instinctively swallowed it.
I remember how it felt, swallowing that tooth. The hard, scratchy edges inched down my throat, and I panicked. I wasn't in any physical pain, although I'm sure I was bleeding. My biggest worry was that the tooth fairly wouldn't know I'd lost a tooth because I had nothing to put under my pillow. The next morning, I was delighted to discover two shiny quarters under my pillow. Instead of nothing, I got double what I was expecting! Looking back, I think my parents felt a little bad, and maybe my dad was proud his little girl wasn't afraid to be a bit adventurous.
Looking forward, I think about what I want for my own daughter. Do I want to be a helicopter parent, refusing to allow my child to do certain things for fear of failure? Or, do I want to stand by and watch as she tries new things, ready to comfort her when she does fail?
I choose the latter.
Kids need to learn how to fail in order to succeed. Otherwise, they go through life believing that taking the safest route, the route of least resistance, will lead them to success. Instead, doing so only leads to a life of mediocrity and a lifetime of unfulfilled wishes. They might make a lot of money, and they might live in nice houses, but they might also be left wondering, 'what if?'
I'm not saying you should let your three-year-old jump out of planes or anything, but if your child wants to take an advanced class, or try a different subject in school because it interests him, why not? If he fails, or doesn't do as well as he'd hoped, he can at least say he tried. And when he fills out that college admissions application, he can say he knows what it means to succeed because he's learned how to fail.