Growing a Generation Who Doesn't know How to Fail

Parents: We are not there to make life easy on our kids. It's our job to help them grow up with the skills to become successful adults.
11/12/2012 01:24 pm ET Updated Jan 12, 2013
File photo dated 17/08/11 of a woman looking into the window of a job centre as a third of unemployed young people have not r
File photo dated 17/08/11 of a woman looking into the window of a job centre as a third of unemployed young people have not received any responses to job applications in the past year, new research has shown.

"Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts." - Winston Churchill

I spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring teenagers and university students. Ten years ago, they thought me "cool" enough to invite to hangout, but my role is quickly transitioning. With more grey hair appearing and the number of birthdays only increasing, I've quickly become the person to play the"cool uncle" role in many student's lives.

Today, my role is to bridge language and culture between students and parents, actually translating what's going on in the pop-teen culture to help parents and youth mentors better understand 13-25 year olds. I take this job very seriously, and think to help even ONE family bridge the gap between a student who lives in anger and frustration and one who can understand the world around them is a huge feat. I feel lucky to be a help and incredibly humbled when it works out.

The other day, I was visiting a local high school lunchroom at the invitation of the local administration. I find working in the cafeteria is much like being an undercover agent searching for clues; I learn quickly how to translate teenage language, hear the latest trends in the youth world and better understand how to help parents understand youth culture.

This particular lunchroom was filled with healthy Whole Foods-type meals, and when I stood in line to get my food, I noticed several mothers standing outside with hot fast food lunches for their kids.

I asked one of the students I was standing in line with, "What's up with that?"

"Oh, those moms bring their kids lunches to school everyday. I guess they just keep forgetting to send them with money." He said.

Forget sending them with money?

I remember growing up, going to school and walking to the lunchroom. If I didn't pack my own lunch or remember my lunch money, I went hungry for the day. I didn't die of starvation. I didn't fail my tests due to poor nutrition. I actually learned if I don't bring my lunch, I go hungry. (Today, I rarely forget to think about where I'm going to be when I need to eat.) My failure actually turned into a lesson of survival.

As I reflect on the implications of this army of mothers coming to serve their kids in the local cafeteria, I'm convinced there is a greater issue at hand than simply helping kids have a lunch. We're watching a generation grow up who doesn't know how to fail.

I've heard of moms who bring homework to school when students forget.

I've heard of dads actually doing the work.

I've interviewed university students who have set phone calls every morning from parents who wake them up to go to class so they don't sleep late.

I've watched parents work with employers to make sure their kids get a good job.

I've personally been in meetings where parents try to convince teachers their kid needs a better grade in a particular class.

Parents: We are not there to make life easy on our kids. It's our job to help them grow up with the skills to become successful adults. And you and I both know life is filled with failure.

The Result: The newest trend I see in university graduates is extended adolescence. With the economy still struggling to come back, over half of new university graduates are unemployed. They don't know how to get a job because they were never trained. Many opted out of job training for classes to boost grade point averages. They don't know how to get a place to live, because they've always been given options. Many students just won't accept living in a low-rent area if they were brought up with their own room in a suburban neighborhood that took their parents a lifetime to save for. They don't know how to manage money because they've always had a parent working hard to provide for them.

So, what do these new graduates do? They move back in with their parents until they "save enough money" to move out and get their own place. All the while they're playing X-Box LIVE in the basement waiting for the perfect career opportunity to fall in their lap. Of course, I'm stereotyping a large chunk of the Millennial Generation, but parents, please read this carefully: IT'S OK FOR YOUR KID TO FAIL.

All of the important life lessons I've learned have come because of a failure. When I was in college, the questions I missed on the test where the ones I remember the most, not the successes. If we don't let our kids feel failure at home, then they'll find failure somewhere in life, and it will be more painful the longer they wait.

None of us want to see our kids fail, go hungry or suffer. But often, the way we allow our kids to experience failure shapes their character development. They become the people they want to be, rather than coasting through life on the life preserver called Mom and Dad. I'm not advocating we just send them to the big bad world alone, but helping our kids understand life lessons is part of the job.