A Crisis of Confidence: Why you want your kids to fail
In my line of work, teaching and coaching families and teens, not a week goes by that I don’t hear a parent say that their teen is struggling with confidence.
On the one hand, gaining confidence in oneself in the world is a developmental task of a teen. On the other hand, among kids where one would think one would have confidence in abundance, there seems to be a creeping epidemic of anxiety, insecurity, and sometimes even unwillingness to step into the adult world and “adult” (a whole new verb in the common vocabulary).
If you’re thinking “epidemic” might be too strong a word for the trend in anxiety in kids, consider that The Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry reports approximately a third of kids will suffer from an anxiety disorder by age 18 (girls more commonly do) and that the median onset age is 11 years. More than half of college students feel overwhelmed with anxiety causing colleges and universities to wonder what is going on in American childhood. It is, all experts agree, a complex, multi-faceted situation.
So, as parents, teachers, friends, aunts, uncles… how do we help restore a sense of confidence in our kids? Here are two things to consider.
Don’t do harm by over-doing
In the past 40+ years of working with teens and families, the most helpful book I’ve read is by Julie Lythcott-Haims, How to Raise an Adult. In that, she poses that we do our children harm (NOTE: “harm” is a pretty strong word for those of us who are loving parents!) when…
- We do for them what they can already do for themselves;
- we do for them what they can almost already do for themselves, and
- we parent from our need rather than from theirs.
The truth is that, if we look closely, it’s likely that we are doing too much for our kids.
“But they’re so stressed, so overloaded,” we might protest. That is a good time to remember Lythcott-Haims’ quote from above, “We do our children harm….” They need to do it for themselves. They need to learn to stretch to new capabilities. They need to learn that, when making choices, one activity may not be as important as another and, given a time/resource crunch, something will have to go. Our being concierge-parents is not useful to them in the long run.
Keep in mind that failure often is the path to success
If I were to ask a room filled with people to raise their hands if they’d learned more from failures or more from successes, I can guarantee that more hands would go up for failures. Recent brain research confirms that as long as things are going smoothly, our brains are sort of on automatic pilot. But when something goes wrong, it’s like alarm bells go off, lights start flashing in our brains as if to say, “Warning, warning…ding, ding, ding…something is wrong. Bring in the troops; figure out the problem; fix it; fix it; fix it!”
In the face of challenge, disaster, or failure, we are typically most open to learn. If that is so, why is it that we are so reluctant for our kids to fail or even suffer setbacks? If “failure” is the path to success, positive problem-solving, and growth, what happens when we do too much to prevent our kids from stumbling? What does that cost them in terms of valuable growth and learning? What are our kids missing when we prevent them from taking well-thought-through risks, like getting a job at McDonald’s?
Each step into the world, each challenge to consider a new way of advancing, is an opportunity for growth. Resolving the crisis of confidence our children are facing begins and continues with individual encounters, uncertain steps, sometimes failures or setbacks, and eventual effort to overcome and figure out things for themself.
To modify the old adage a bit, “The journey of one thousand miles begins, and continues, with a single step.”
Join us for Crisis in Confidence
Thursday, September 27 | 11:45 am | Room #3 | $20
Parents often wonder what it takes to raise a healthy, confident, responsible, independent child. With plenty of distractions which seem urgent and important, it’s easy to get swept off-course. Kathleen’s presentation will consider what elements makeup confidence, and why great kids can struggle with it. She will also look at expectations on teens, both what is reasonable to expect them to do and how these expectations are critical for their development. How can we promote our kids thinking things through and successfully solving their own problems?