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Parents: Letting Your Kids Fail Will Make Their Lives Better

Take my hand. (Stephanski/Flickr)

Take my hand. (Stephanski/Flickr)

Watching your child suffer in disappointment is never easy but experts say it’s one of the best things you can do for them and their future.



  • The Atlantic: “The stories teachers exchange these days reveal a whole new level of overprotectiveness: parents who raise their children in a state of helplessness and powerlessness, children destined to an anxious adulthood, lacking the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure.”

Other stories from this show:

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  • Call_Me_Missouri

    Letting your child fail is only good if you also teach them how to recover from a failure, how to be resilient, and most importantly that failure is good, not bad.  Letting your child fail without providing the requisite parenting will not help your child.  In fact, it will create a perfectionist child that won’t try new things for fear of failure.

    • Info

       Good point. There does need to be some nuance in this. In my own life, my mom was resolutely non-hovering, in contrast to HER mother. This was good, mostly, but there were a few times I probably could’ve used a little bit more guidance and direction, when it came to consequential life decisions and problems (eg. college, mental health/learning problems). Kids don’t always have the maturity necessary to make choices that they won’t regret as adults.

  • Kim

    Have heard anecdotes lately about parents showing up at young adults place of employment to argue about job reviews or corrective actions. Absolutely amazing.

  • Ansapphire

    The worst thing about this behavious is that someone else has to come along and take all the responsibilities for the  child raised in that enviroment.  I know I live it.

  • Emily

    One of the worst lost opportunities of failure is getting the empathy from a sympathetic parent when you do feel. This part of a parent-child relationship, comfort for real loss and cheer-leading to persevere, is incredibly important. Nether parent nor child can see their real self or that of the other person without it.

    -A 25 year-old shocked by the lack of resilience of some of my peers

  • Josiah Vanvliet

    I think that one problem, as I see it, is that parents can not tell the difference between anxiety and compassion. They are nervous about what is going on with their children, and instead of coping with those feelings of anxiety they project those feelings on the world and assume something is wrong about their child’s situation. 

  • Josiah Vanvliet

    Also this. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0dYtOOtfQtM

  • Sarah Adams Pyne

    Thank you Jessica for writing about a subject that I have seen play out since going to high school 25 years ago.  As a mother of young children I have been amazed at the difference it can make in my own home if my kids see me working out a challenge.  When do our kids get to see adults fail?  When everything around our children is complete, perfect, and done how will they learn to fall down?  Do you let your kids see you striving?

    • Jessica Lahey

      Sarah, go to my blog and scroll down to “The Math Posts” on the right. I went back to Algebra I this year to slay those particular dragons and yes, my students saw my fail over and over and over…www.jessicalahey.com. 

  • Adea

    During my tenure teaching at a Boston area college, I observed all that these guests noted increasing at alarming rates over the years. Students and parents so emeshed that the student could not make a  decision – and I mean small decisions –without calling or texting their parent. If one cannot make small decisions, moral and ethical decisions feel impossible, and so students cannot suss out the right thing to do, then feel incompetent, and turn to numbing substances or behaviors to distract them from their sense of self-worth. The anxiety level was palpable. As one of my students from Africa said, ” I am not going to see my parents for at least a decade. I talk to them once  every 3 months. I am trying to finish my degree in 3 years so I can send money home sooner. I think American college students are a bunch of spoiled brats, but since I know about failure and working hard, I am secretly glad because I am the one who benefits.”

  • Vivian

    Please follow up the segment on parents not allowing their children to fail with a look into how university’s – including those at the very top and at the grad school level- don’t allow their students to fail. In addition to rampant grade inflation, professors and instructors are vigorously discouraged from confronting and penalizing students for cheating, including blatant plagiarism. What does that reflect about the academic  “learning” that is supposed to take place as well as the standards and ethics that students will bring to their future work lives?

  • 1monkey1

    I wish I could have been a part of this discussions at the bur office today…. Probably made for an interesting day.

  • josie22

    As a parent who lets her 6th grader decide whether and how much to study for tests, put into homework and plan ahead – and endure the consequences – I believe in disconnecting your own hopes and fears from your child’s journey. Let’s face it, he KNOWS what he should do but only he can decide to do it. I can remind but I won’t force. The clean up is hard parental work but the right work. What’s hard is explaining why he’s one of the very few slogging through this part of growth; why he messes up when (seemingly) others don’t. It’s easy to feel pretty bad about yourself when perfection (mom-made or otherwise) is the norm. 

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