Menu

Girl surrounded by her parents helping her with her game
Published
04 April 2019

It's ok to fail!

​You may have been hearing a bit about 'concierge' parenting over the last week or so. Our own headmistress brought the term to our attention only recently referring to some parents who "are at a little desk waiting for any problems and to sort them out" and stirred up a fair bit of comment in the national media.

When I welcome new parents to the senior school, one of my strongest pieces of advice is to let your daughter fail. It sounds harsh but don't come in to save her if she has lost her homework, forgotten her PE gear or assignment, just hold tight and say no. Parents nod, and agree but, when it comes to the crunch, and a panicked daughter calls in tears, we (parents) often cave and drop everything to help our children – that is what parents do, right?

Making mistakes is a crucial part of learning and overcoming adversity. By not allowing children to fail, we are developing a culture of helplessness, incompetence, and lack of perseverance – exactly the opposite of what we want for our daughters and our students. Anna Fazackerley  (Fazackerley, 2018) writes that "university may be a door to adulthood, but the parents of today's students have wedged their feet firmly inside". She says perfectionist parents, who have 'helicoptered' or 'snowplowed' their children throughout school are now making their presence known at the university level. 

Alan Percy, head of counselling at Oxford University and chair of the Heads of University Counselling Services group, says parents have been given "a distorting message" that being a good parent is all about removing life's problems. He says that we need to teach our children practical life skills and give them the emotional resilience they need to live without their parents in the future. ​

"Often students can feel overwhelmed by managing their lives. If their parents have structured everything, at university they are going to fall off a cliff. I would advise parents to explain to young people that there may be times when they feel lonely. Don't deny that. They should say 'of course it feels difficult and you miss your friends, but eventually these strangers will be the best friends you'll have for life'." Percy also notes that there is a growing number of 'spoon-fed' students who are struggling to cope with the increased demands of university and increasingly seeking assistance from counsellors as they lack the resilience needed for university life. (Paton, 2019)

In Psychology Today (Gray, 2015) Dr Peter Gray laments that university students are quick to blame others if they receive a grade that is poorer than expected. Students often see failure in grades as 'catastrophic' rather than an opportunity for feedback and to study more effectively.  And just recently, we have been hearing about the cheating scandal in the US, where parents paid for their children to gain entry into the top tier schools in the US.

Here in our senior school, the reception staff receive on average 10 items a day that have been dropped off by parents for their daughters. Generally these are food, laptops, assignments and PE gear. Students report that the majority of texts received during the day are from parents rather than other students (whose phones we hope are in their lockers!). While we don't want to punish our students, we know that with supportive relationships and experiences within their families, schools and communities we can help them to develop the necessary skills to successfully navigate minor challenges and problems. When these are present, overcoming challenges or 'bouncing back' is easier to do. (Madigan, 2019)

So pack up that little concierge desk, drop the school day texts and let your daughter build the kind of resilience she will need to navigate her future.

 

Fazackerley, A. (2018, November 20). Don't make their GP appointments, don't manage their money – universities' advice to helicopter parents. The Guardian.
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/nov/20/dont-make-gp-appointment-manage-money-universities-advice-helicopter-parents

Gray, P. (2015, September 22). Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges. Retrieved from Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/freedom-learn/201509/declining-student-resilience-serious-problem-colleges

Madigan, N. R. (2019, March 22). parent 24. Retrieved from parent 24: https://www.parent24.com/Child_7-12/Development/5-tips-to-build-your-kids-resilience-from-playground-risks-to-failed-university-admissions-20190322

Paton, G. (2019, April 2). Daily Telegraph UK. Retrieved from Daily Telegraph: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/8194038/Spoon-fed-students-lack-resilience-needed-at-Oxbridge.html

 

Mrs Deborah Clancy
B Sc Dip Ed COGE MACE
Head of Boarding and Academic Care