"When parents demand excellence in their kids while still promising them that effort is king, they tell them, wrongly, that they should be able to rise above any obstacle. But research has found that young people who push themselves onward in the face of unattainable goals experience physical and emotional stress...Researchers have found that adolescents with purpose report greater life satisfaction, have a strong sense of identity and are more psychologically mature. Instead of allowing our kids to beat themselves up when things don’t go their way, we might all pause to question a culture that has taught them that being anything less than overwhelmed is lazy, that how they perform for others is more important than what actually inspires them and that where they go to college matters more than the kind of person they are."
Several years ago I held a workshop for students in advance of final exams titled "Don't Fail Your Finals! Strategies for Final Exam Success." A fellow educator chastised me for using the dirty "F" word -- FAILURE -- and said that it's not a word that I should use around students because it would bring on negativity and fear. I thought that it was a well-intentioned but illogical warning, and contemporary research on embracing failure proves my point.
The well-intentioned actions of shielding students from the idea of failure and "snowplow parenting" has led to a decline in resiliency and an increase in anxiety in children and teens. As we grind through these final days and weeks of the school year, filled with projects, presentations, and final exams -- and often a fair amount of sleep deprivation and overwhelm among our students -- let's remember to keep our students and children in the stretch zone of their capabilities without pushing them into the panic zone of perfectionism. Not all effort is going to lead to an A, and not doing as well as well as you wanted on an exam or a paper isn't the end of the world -- it's an opportunity for reflection and growth.