Years ago, Jay Kessler wrote an excellent book entitled Ten Mistakes Parents of Teenagers Make. Among his list were the following: “Failing to allow our kids to develop their own identity; failing to admit when we’re wrong; failing to listen; and failing to spend adequate time with them.” But the one that resonated most with me was, “Failing to let them fail.”
In their landmark book, Cradles of Eminence, psychologists Victor and Mildred Goertzel describe their attempt to find a common thread that accounted for the phenomenal attainments of 413 “famous, exceptional people”. They expected the link to be remarkable intelligence or extraordinary parenting—or even unusual opportunity. What they discovered shocked them: They found that 392 of the 413 “winners” had been required to overcome great obstacles in life. It makes me think of Paul’s words from today’s verse, “perseverance produces character,” and James’ words, “perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.” (James 1:4, NIV)
And yet, we’ll do most anything to protect our kids from difficulties, won’t we? Here are 3 reasons that’s a bad idea. (1) Failing produces wisdom. It’s where we learn most, and best. (2) Adversity generates compassion. People who’ve struggled a lot are best equipped to help other strugglers. Henri Nouwen once called them “wounded healers”. (3) It deepens relationships. It drives us into the arms of others as does nothing else. It strips away our independence and introduces us to the value of community. Guess what? Your adolescent or young adult needs all those things… and they may need to fail, face adversity or, God forbid, suffer in order to attain them. Helicopter parents, take notice.
I read about a young man who is a cancer survivor. He pointed out two things about his cancer that made him thankful: Enduring it made him stronger, and it also made him more compassionate. “In other words,” he added, “it took pain to teach me the things my coddling parents couldn’t or wouldn’t teach me.” Think about that. More on this tomorrow.