Letting Kids Fail

The value of an overnight summer camp experience has never been more important or significant than in our current culture.  Developing life skills of independence, leadership, problem solving, teamwork and communication gives kids the self-confidence and resilience necessary to take on whatever challenges they encounter along the way.  Summer camp provides an opportunity for kids to take healthy risks, challenge their fears, set goals, and work through obstacles to find success and happiness.  Camp gives kids the space to make mistakes, learn from them, and ultimately develop essential coping skills. At camp, we understand how important it is for kids to have both positive and negative experiences to build a healthy self-esteem. 

There has been a lot of talk in the news recently about a parenting style that protects kids, at all costs, from ever experiencing disappointment or failure on their journey through life.  The “Snowplow Parent”, defined as a person who constantly forces obstacles out of their kids’ path, wants to remove any pain or difficulty so that their kids don’t have to encounter failure, frustration or disappointment.  In light of the recent college admissions bribery scandal, involving parents who are paying off colleges and coaches to get their children into the best schools, we as a culture are faced with the issue of what length parents will go to pave the way for their kid’s “success”.  This case may be an extreme, but there is no doubt that parenting can be quite challenging when it comes to wanting the best for our kids.   Wanting to see our kids succeed in every facet of life, and not have to experience any disappointment or frustration is only natural, but protecting children from failure is doing them a disservice in the long run.  Constant overprotectiveness eventually generates a lack of confidence and feelings of inadequacy in a child.  Studies show children who are protected from failure are more depressed and less satisfied with life in adulthood. 

Mistakes are the essence of learning.  Nobody is going to succeed all of the time.  We can teach our kids how to cope with failure and disappointment and use it as a learning experience to propel them forward toward future success.  Failure should not be seen as the end all, but as a stepping stone to try again, maybe take a different approach and appreciate the hard work put into the process.  By not allowing children to falter or experience disappointment, we create a sense of insecurity and helplessness.  In our well-intended efforts to protect our children, we take valuable learning opportunities away from them.   Kids need to fail in order to learn, grow, and develop a strong sense of self. 

Jessica Lahey, author of “The Gift of Failure” believes that children of parents who support autonomy are more competent and resilient in the face of frustration.  And parents who give the gift of camp are giving their children the gift of autonomy.  Campers at IS take on obstacles and challenges with a determination and energy that is truly remarkable.  They set goals and give it their all.  Any mistakes made along the way are not set-backs or reasons to give up, but motivators to find another way to achieve their goals.  Along with continuous support and encouragement from staff and peers, campers learn to navigate through obstacles and build their self-confidence. Kids at overnight camp have the freedom and independence to not only find great success, but to make choices.  Campers can choose their friends, choose their electives and club activities, choose their meals, choose what they are going to wear…you get it.   When kids do things on their own… they literally “own it!”  They feel a sense of pride, accomplishment, and confidence that does not come from having it done or planned for them.  Letting kids experience independence and the space to figure things out on their own fosters a healthy self-esteem.  Camp lets kids develop important life skills that are needed once they venture out into the world.