Parents of Teens, It’s Time To Stop Saving Them From Failure

We’ve long known from educators and parenting experts how important it is to let your kids fail. The idea that everyone gets a trophy and nobody needs to come in second (or third, or last) place has produced a cohort of young adults unable to deal with many types of rejection and failure.

If you’ve been saved from falling on your butt your whole life, you will continue to look to be saved each and every time thereafter when you’re about to bust it. 

And well meaning parents – only wanting the best and happiest of experiences for their children and teens – try to avoid them failing at all costs. Of course it’s natural to not want to see your child suffer physically or mentally, but constantly saving them from failure is doing them the greatest of disservice.

Why parents need to stop saving their kids from failure

Because when we do, we’re inherently telling them they’re not capable of coming back from failure. 

Unfortunately, it seems parents are continuing to rescue their kids from failure even through the college years – and thanks to technology, are able to save the day from hundreds (or thousands) of miles away.

From afar — and at a time when the realities and responsibilities of adulthood are just beginning to swiftly gut punch their kids — parents are still doing everything in their power to prevent their kids from failing.

Perhaps parents fear embarrassment on their part, as if the reason their college student has been skipping class all semester and is now failing is somehow their fault, and happened because of some lapse of parenting at one point. As parents, we tend to, first, look inward when our children aren’t living up to our expectations, and we naturally blame ourselves.

But this falsehood is just that – a big lie, because by the time your child goes away to college, they’ve had plenty of “parenting” done to them, and it’s more than high time for you to really let go.

And by really let go, I mean let them epically fail.

This is so hard for some parents to do for a multitude of reasons, the most obvious being that parents feel because they’re “paying” for college, they have a huge say on everything that happens – including the failures they can help prevent. They’re looking at their kid’s college years as a short-term investment, with no margin for error and fluctuations in the market, and with only huge returns when all is said and done. This is especially true for families that, prior to college, had their children in public school, and have never before paid for education outright. It comes as a complete shock when they have to process the fact that at some point they’re going to find themselves paying for failure.

The failure ultimately leads to unwarranted communication between parent and college professor, with mom and dad calling deans and department heads to try and get the real story on why their kid is failing, and what the college plans to do about it. Not only does this almost never end well, it’s completely inappropriate, and in many cases illegal.

When a student turns 18 and enrolls in a post secondary institution, all rights formerly given to parents under The Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) are transferred to the student. This means colleges are under no obligation to release any student records or grades to parents – with the exception being in cases of emergency or suspected drug or alcohol abuse.

In some instances, parents are actually calling colleges and professors and outright impersonating their child just to get information, negotiate grades,  or to plead whatever case they’re fighting.

It only takes a few minutes scrolling through college parent Facebook groups for one to begin to see just how serious the problem of overbearing parental supervision is at the college level.

If you didn’t know any better, some comments would have you thinking these college students are still in elementary school, and these groups are made up of the school’s PTA, or other concerned parents talking about which 5th grade teacher they should request for their child. It’s common to read threads with wording like, “WE are failing accounting, and would like advice on what WE should do next. WE have tried tutoring but it’s not working for US.”

Note the WE and US. It’s as if the parent and student are going to college together, and are mutually working towards a degree. YOU (the parent) are not taking accounting, so YOU (the parent) need to defer any and all classroom issues and failings to THEM (your student), and either let them FAIL, or let them figure out on their own what to do. And trust me, they will.

Rather than intervene and try to save your failing college student, an alternative would be to simply say, “I’m sorry to hear you’re failing. What steps do YOU think YOU should do now take to fix that problem?” And then listen and encourage, but stay out of the solution.

Other basic “adulting” responsibilities and skills are also seemingly stumping today’s college students. Everyday there are posts on college parenting pages asking for housekeeping recommendations, because their student’s apartment is a “mess,” and needs professional cleaning. This is either because their kids don’t know how to clean (or claim not to have time) to properly keep apartments in livable shape.

These are the same apartments that on average are costing parents well over $1,000 a month in rent, and are of such a luxurious  standard (stainless steel kitchens, granite, hardwood floors)  it’s hard to imagine a student doesn’t have the desire (or pride) to keep it in decent shape.

So yet again, parents are coming in to save the day, sending in weekly maids, and having groceries and pre-made meals delivered, paying for laundry services, and covering any repair or damage costs their student has incurred while living there.

College parents, PLEASE STOP.

Stop being there and rescuing your student from every failure, every misstep, every fault, and every missed deadline, responsibility, failed class, lost job, bombed job interview, and broken relationship they have. I will admit, this is excruciatingly easier said than done. It goes against a parent’s DNA to sit back and let the really bad chips fall where they may, but it’s absolutely crucial if you want to raise strong, independent, and confidant adults that are able to come back from defeat with grace and confidence.

Was it easy for me? Absolutely not, and it requires plenty of baby steps on your part to begin to feel comfortable witnessing your child’s failure. But it does get easier, I promise.

And the best part? Well, it isn’t only when they begin solving their adult problems on their own.

It’s when they thank you for letting them.


6 Things You Should Never Do as a Parent of a College Kid 

Skip the College Tour and 9 More Things You Need to Know About a Campus Visit

The Gift of Failure

Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. She is on Facebook at 4BoysMother and on twitter at @melissarunsaway.








About Melissa Fenton

Melissa Fenton is a freelance writer and adjunct librarian at Pasco-Hernando State College. Find her writing all over the internet, but her work mostly on the dinner table. Find her on Facebook 
and on twitter at @melissarunsaway

Read more posts by Melissa

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