Let your kids fail

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success

Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg. Her new book, The Up Side of Down advocates “learning to fail better.” That includes taking on challenges and being ready “to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible and move on when things don’t work out.”

After a book talk, a 10th-grade girl said she understood about “trying new things, and hard things,” but she couldn’t risk it. “I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?” 

High school shouldn’t be about perfection, writes McArdle.

If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time?

Now is when this kid should be learning to dream big dreams and dare greatly. Now is when she should be making mistakes and figuring out how to recover from them. Instead, we’re telling one of our best and brightest to focus all her talent on coloring within the lines.

Too many achievers are trying to get into a small number of elite colleges, writes McArdle. Upper-middle-class parents are pushing their children “harder than ever — micromanaging their lives.”

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  1. I think parents would be better off encouraging their kids to set goals. If their goal is to go to an elite college, then so be it. For a lot of people, though, their goals don’t require either an elite education or that level of risk avoidance.

    As a first-generation college student, my family didn’t know to do any of this. I didn’t get into an ivy league school, but my scholarships to a good out-of-state public school let me earn a great education fairly inexpensively. I didn’t know that I was supposed to game the system by looking for easy majors, classes, and profs, so I took whatever I thought would be useful. I didn’t graduate with a 4.0, but I was very involved and learned a lot. With that as a background, asking ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’ makes it a lot easier to make unusual career/life decisions. It’s probably why I’m happily teaching high school classes at a homeschool co-op instead of being one of the many cranky profs that I know, who don’t seem to really like their job but don’t want to risk trying something else.

  2. “In order to learn how to succeed, you must first learn to fail.” – Sun Tzu, ‘The Art of War’

    Which, in turn, makes me think of this from my youth…