Last year I wrote an article on failing; Failing to let them Fail. In it I discussed the importance of failure as a necessary part of learning and growth. I am now writing to implore parents, specifically, to LET THEM FAIL … and to trust that not only will your child survive this uncomfortable experience, they will actually grow and thrive from it; if you manage the experience appropriately.
The reason I feel compelled to write about this is due to an alarming number of disconcerting posts I’ve read, this week, on various social media platforms. It’s the end of the school year in South Africa and students and parents are receiving their year-end marks and reports. Some examples from the posts that concern me are:
- “The school phoned to tell me that they have failed my daughter!”
- “I can’t believe that the Maths teacher failed my son!”
- “The school called me in to drop a bombshell – they’re failing my child!”
- “Such a shock to hear that the school has decided to fail my son this year!”
NO, THE SCHOOL DIDN’T FAIL YOUR CHILD – YOUR CHILD FAILED … and that’s ok.
Let’s bust a few myths which seem to be prevailing at this moment in time:
Myth 1: Teachers enjoy failing students
This is an absurd myth. No teacher likes it when a student fails. Teachers become teachers because they like to teach. Dah! They become teachers because they are invested in helping students learn and grow. They do everything in their power to ensure that all students in their class achieve their potential. Why? Because that’s their job, for starters. Also, it’s a massive hassle for teachers when a student fails. The paperwork is onerous, the meetings with department heads, academic heads and parents are lengthy and uncomfortable. Finally, watching students pass and achieve good marks is the most rewarding part of the job (goodness knows the pay check isn’t) – so let’s just quell this myth right now.
Myth 2: Failing the year is a SHOCK!
At school level, no-one “suddenly” fails the year. It is not possible. A student who has been achieving passing marks throughout the school year, attending all their classes and handing in all their work does not tank a final set of exams and end up failing the year. If some major crisis – like a death in the family or a major illness – causes a student to miss/fail some exams, all schools will take the reason into account and weight the rest of the year’s marks accordingly. If you, as a parent, have read the termly report cards, attended parent-teacher meetings and tracked your child’s marks by knowing about their tests and assignments and asking to see their marks when they get them, you will know very certainly when your child may be in danger of failing a subject or the year. Your “shock” and “outrage” are neither appropriate nor believable. You knew your child was in danger of failing. Please, please, for the sake of your child, accept it and help them deal with it.
Myth 3: Failure is a punishment
Nope. Nada. Eh eh. No. Teachers and schools do not use marks as punishment for bad behaviour. They certainly don’t use marks as punishment for personality clashes (see Myth 1). Marks are simply a way of assessing the level of knowledge and skill a students has in a particular subject area at a particular time. If they do not meet the minimum requirements to progress to the next grade, it is not a punishment, it is simply a fact. As parents, the key is to understand the reasons for failure and to help your child achieve better results the following year. Reasons for failure are due to emotional, developmental and behavioural problems, or learning disabilities. These include:
WORK NOT DONE: this is the easiest one to fix. If your little angel has been resting on their laurels and simply not doing the grind, that’s easily rectified with some clear boundaries and consequences. Figure out what they’ve been spending their time on instead of schoolwork and remove that, first of all. Before losing your temper with them, also check to see if there isn’t some emotional/psychological reason for their inertia. Depression, for example, is a huge de-motivator. So are video games, drugs, alcohol and sex … but be cautious and thorough in your investigations; don’t jump to conclusions.
IMMATURITY: sometimes a child or teen is simply not “ready” for the next level of school. I have often witnessed students failing a year and then thriving comfortably the following year; with peers with whom they fit in better and that extra bit of maturity. One year makes a huge difference when someone is under 18.
LEARNING DIFFICULTIES: neurologically-based processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing and/or maths. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, abstract reasoning, long or short term memory and attention. Many learning disabilities that interfere with coding (reading) and computing (maths) are picked up in primary school and the necessary interventions and remediations are provided by either the school and/or parents and private practitioners. Problems with abstract reasoning are often only picked up in high school, or even at tertiary level. Learning problems do not mean that someone is incapable of learning – they simply learn differently. If failing a year is the catalyst to discovering that your child has a learning problem, it could be the very best thing that happens to them. Getting to the underlying cause of the learning difficulty is a huge relief. You can then get them the help they need to equip themselves for future learning. If your child has been trying their absolute hardest and has still failed the year it can feel heartbreaking; both for you and for them. Try not to despair, but rather look at it as a gift of the extra time needed to get them the professional help that will enable them to learn more easily, efficiently and effectively … and feel good about themselves as a result.
*If you are concerned that your child has a learning disorder and don’t know where to start finding help, feel free to contact me via on firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do what I can to point you in the right direction.
Myth 4: Failing is the end of the world
It’s not. It just isn’t. Look, with the cost of school fees these days, I can see how an extra year can put a huge strain on a family’s finances. I get that. However, big picture: you want your child to learn, grow and develop into a capable, functional member of society, right? You want your child to achieve their potential, with whatever support, interventions and, yes, failures, they may need along the way to grow into the kind of awesome adult we need in our world, right? You want your child to learn and understand the correlation between effort and reward, hard work and success, right? You want your child to be a growth-minded individual who is able to accept the consequences of their actions and mistakes and to learn from them, right? Then let them fail! Let them feel sad, disappointed, angry, hopeless, helpless, embarrassed – all of it! – then help them pick themselves up, set some new goals, make an action plan, get them the help they need, if necessary … and then be their biggest cheerleader as they give it another go.
Gen Z’s are both incredible and incredibly spoiled. They’re inventive, creative and technologically advanced, but they’re also suffering significantly more from depression, anxiety and suicide than any previous generation. In psychological studies of our teen generation, “narcissism” and “entitlement” come up way too frequently for comfort. They’re not to blame – we are. Author and Millennial and Gen Z expert, Ryan Jenkins, writes about leadership:
Company cultures and leaders that own failure are positioned well to stamp out entitlement. After a failure, non-entitled leaders and employees will ask themselves, “What did I do to contribute to this?” and, “What could I have done differently?” Pride is an early indicator of entitlement. Leaders must model the behavior of pointing fingers at themselves more than at others.https://www.inc.com/ryan-jenkins/5-ways-to-remove-entitlement-from-millennials.html
If we want our children to become capable, resilient adults and our future leaders, we have to let them learn to own failure. We are not helping them by placing blame elsewhere. We need to first own our own failures, then we need to help our children own theirs.