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What should helicopter parents really be teaching their kids? Failure

Adversity was once a fixture in the average kid's life – from the scant chance of getting into college to the nightly struggle to get enough grub at a table full of ravenous brothers and sisters.

Those were the good old days. According to a growing body of research, failure – and the potential to learn from mistakes – is a rare privilege for kids today. A new study from the Queensland University of Technology describes the alarming degree to which kids are shielded from setbacks, putting them at a disadvantage in life.

The researchers contacted 130 psychologists and school guidance counsellors to identify behaviours they considered to be overparenting. Examples included a mom's insistence on bringing special food to a party because her 16-year-old was a picky eater.

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Worst still, education professionals in the study identified parents who "take their child's perception as truth, regardless of the facts." These are the parents who "demand better grades on the final semester reports or threaten withdrawal from school."

Helicopter parents have become the butt of jokes, but their mindset may not be that far from the norm. The researchers characterized these parents as having "high responsiveness" to their children's perceived needs and "low demandingness" of their kids. Let's be honest. When was the last time you told your child to do the laundry or wash the car without cajoling or bribing with allowance?

Overparenting doesn't allow kids to learn, especially when parents interfere with school, according to Jessica Lahey, an English teacher writing at the "You see, teachers don't just teach reading, writing and arithmetic," she says. "We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint and foresight." Although these skills are not assessed on standardized tests, she adds, "they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach."

It's time for parents to start recognizing the value of true grit, says journalist Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.

Opportunities for "productive failure" are sorely lacking for kids at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, he argues.

So the next time your kid gets called into the principal's office, flubs a soccer game or gets a D on a test, resist the urge to yell at the principal, let your kid quit the soccer team or help him or her study for a retest. Instead, tell your kid to buck up and figure out what to do next.

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About the Author

Adriana Barton is based in The Globe and Mail’s Vancouver bureau. Her article on growing up with counterculture parents is published in a McGraw-Hill anthology, right after an essay by Margaret Atwood. She wishes her last name didn’t start with B. More


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