Grooming Our Kids for Failure
By Craig Harper
Recently on a current affairs television program here in Melbourne there was a story exploring the concept of children not receiving ‘traditional’ school report cards and not being graded (marked) on their school work at all.
The key message of the program was that evaluating our kids and actually scoring them on their work and exams might set them up for some kind of long-term emotional pain or short-term social judgement and ridicule from their peers.
Apparently the traditional concept of report cards might do some kind of damage and it might be in our kid’s interest to ‘protect’ them from any form of assessment or evaluation.
Clearly, turning up to school is enough.
What a great idea.
That way nobody will get upset.
We wouldn’t want children to compare report cards and we wouldn’t want anyone to do ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than anyone else would we? Ideally, everyone will get about the same mark, no one will fail, no one will get upset, all the parents will be happy, no kids will have to deal with any pressure, no waves will be made and then we’ll all go home and sing nice, warm, fuzzy songs around the fire and drink hot milk. Then we’ll put our pyjamas on and dad will read amazing stories to us; ones where we are the heroes.
Give me a bucket.
What a great preparation for the realities of life beyond school this kind of learning environment would be. What are we teaching our kids when the message is that… not studying, not paying attention in class, not completing homework and not being a responsible, diligent student… has no real downside?
Back in the dark ages when I was at school my teachers employed this wacky notion of telling us whether or not our school work was great, good, bad or otherwise. They even gave us grades. And when my report cards were bad my folks got mad at me… not the teacher. Crazy, I know. Surprisingly I didn’t die from this… or suffer any irreparable damage.
Sometimes kids even failed a subject. Interestingly, none of them died either (as a result of that failure). Some of them even went away, studied, worked harder, passed the next semester, developed some new skills and learned a lot from the experience!
Is it just me, or does is dawn on anybody else that the rampant over-protection of our kids (and not just in a school setting) doesn’t really help them at all? It’s not always an advantage but often, a significant disadvantage? I’m not a kid-ologist (made that up) but I do own a kid’s gym and do observe lots of parents in action and it seems to me that some parents are so paranoid and over-protective that the very thing they don’t want… they end up creating; kids who can’t cope, can’t adapt and don’t fit in.
The world is a messy, lumpy, bumpy, unfair, nasty, unpredictable place. Perhaps we should let our kids experience a little pain, discomfort, adversity… life. One of the realities of life beyond school is that we are regularly (if not, constantly) evaluated, judged, criticised and given feedback. Some of it’s positive, some negative, some of it’s nice, some of it’s nasty… it’s just happens.
Try and find a job where you’re never given feedback about your performance… good luck with that.
In life not everybody ‘wins’, not everybody has fun, not everybody has it easy and not everybody ‘passes’ everything.
Perhaps this would be a valuable lesson for our kids.
Sometimes we fail, fall down, get hurt, make mistakes… and dealing with these realities is how and when we do our real learning.
One day some of these ‘protected’ kids are going to get a rude awakening when they step out of their cushy, cosy, comfy, manufactured school experience… and step into the workplace.
I worry that by building these weird academic environments where ‘everybody passes’… and nobody gets and ‘F’… we prevent our kids from experiencing reality. We prevent our kids from developing the strength, skills, attitudes and coping mechanisms to be able to negotiate the realities of life.
We handicap them.
Yes, we mean well…but no, we’re not helping in the long-term.
I also worry that neurotic, insecure parents are raising neurotic, insecure kids.
I personally know several women who have been so determined to ‘protect’ their daughters from the ‘perils’ of obesity (fat girls get picked on) that they have kindly passed on all of their own obsessive behaviours and attitudes around food to their girls. Mum was picked on for being chubby… so she’ll do anything to protect her daughter from going through that same experience.
Including giving her an eating disorder.
I know that the parents and teachers motives are (usually) good and honourable but perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether or not all this ‘protection’ is grooming our kids for success… or failure.
Craig Harper (B.Ex.Sci.) is an Australian motivational speaker, qualified exercise scientist, author, columnist, radio presenter, and owner of one of the largest personal training centres in the world.
He can be heard weekly on Australian Radio SEN 1116 and GOLD FM and appears on Australian television on Network Ten’s 9AM.
Motivational Speaker – Craig Harper
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