Why Parents Need To Let Their Kids Fail

A few nights ago, my son missed dinner. He was playing in his room when I let him know that he needed to pick up his dress-up clothes before coming to the table. He very adorably bobbed his head in acknowledgment and continued playing. Dinnertime came, I stepped in his room to let him know that he was more than welcome to come to the table as soon as he’d finished his picking up.

Dinner was delicious, a gourmet meal of re-heated leftovers. Henry never joined us at the table. Dishes were cleared, bathwater was drawn, bedtime ensued. At around 7:45 pm, Henry rubbed his tummy. “Mama, I’m hungry,” he looked up at me with big blue eyes.

“I’ll bet you are,” I responded. “I get hungry when I miss dinner, too. We’ll have pancakes for breakfast, okay?”

Not missing a beat, Henry said, “Mama, I’ll pick up my room now.”

“That would be great. And then we’ll head to bed, and when you wake up we’ll have pancakes. Maybe tomorrow you can pick up your things before dinner.”

He sighed, resigned to his fate. “Yeah,” he said.

Some parents would say that letting a kid skip a meal is tantamount to child abuse. And with all the recent cases of parents grossly mistreating their children, I can see why people overreact to discipline of any sort. But now, a recent study shows that parents who don’t let their kids suffer the natural consequences of their actions don’t do their kids any favors. In fact, research shows that these overprotective “helicopter parents” rob their kids of the opportunity to learn from their mistakes.

And who among us can say that we never, ever learned a thing from our mistakes?

The study, conducted by Judith Locke and her associates Marilyn Campbell and David Kavanaugh, sought to answer the question, “Can a parent do too much for their child?” But instead of asking parents what they thought, or even studying children’s profiles, the researchers asked professionals who work with children on a daily basis what they thought.

The group from Queensland University of Technology surveyed psychologists, guidance counselors, and teachers, asking them if they had witnessed examples of over-parenting. The study defines “over-parenting” as as parents’ “misguided attempt to improve their child’s current and future personal and academic success.” Although, according toThe Atlantic, the study’s size and method disqualifies it from statistical evidence, it gives numerous examples of parents who do too much hovering, and professionals who are exasperated by it.

According to the study, teachers most often see “high responsiveness and low demandingness” parents. These parents are highly responsive to the perceived needs and issues of their children, but don’t give their children the chance to solve their own problems. These are the parents who — in examples seen in the study — “rush to school at the whim of a phone call from their child to deliver items such as forgotten lunches, forgotten assignments, forgotten uniforms” and “demand better grades [from teachers] on the final semester reports or threaten withdrawal from school.”

One study participant noted their concerns:

“I have worked with quite a number of parents who are so overprotective of their children that the children do not learn to take responsibility (and the natural consequences) of their actions. The children may develop a sense of entitlement and the parents then find it difficult to work with the school in a trusting, cooperative and solution focused manner, which would benefit both child and school.”

Henry, it is worth mentioning, had no problem picking up his toys the next night and even asked if he could help set the table. Dinner was pleasant, and Henry learned a valuable lesson about being on time and finishing tasks in a reasonable amount of time. Both skills, I hope, will benefit him someday as an adult in the working world.

Just to make sure I’m being realistic in my portrayal of my parenting skills, I should also note that he peed on his little brother while the two were getting ready for bed. We are a far cry from perfection.

But, according to the study, perfection is not the goal of parenting — or of those in the professional “child-teaching” field. Instead, it is raising kids who are ready and able to be responsible members of society. Children who recognize that they are entitled to nothing, but have the opportunity to achieve anything.

What do you think of helicopter parenting?

[Image via Shutterstock]