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By Jessica T

Let your children fail

Uploaded: Jan 24, 2014

My husband and I spent a recent date night at the local middle school where there's a speaker series for parents in the community. We heard Dr. Leonard Sax speak about Why Gender Matters. What Dr. Sax actually talked about was how parents in white, affluent communities are failing to raise resilient children by not letting them fail.

There are a lot of things about my husband's and my parenting style that we will surely live to regret...But on this night, a night where we felt like we were barely keeping our heads above water, we felt vindicated.

You see, we've been dismayed for years at the ways that the parents in our community question teachers' and administrators' decisions. A common refrain has been that the gifted children in my daughter's class (a surprisingly high number) haven't received the attention they deserve. Another example was when my daughter's second-grade teacher didn't "fit in" because she played the piano in class and was forced to retire from teaching the following year.

I'm not saying parents shouldn't speak up when their kids are suffering due to a subpar educational experience. But I never quite grasped how parents whose professions fell well outside of teaching thought themselves experts in the field of education? My own respect for teachers, no doubt, originated with my mom's very specialized training. And I witnessed her gifts when I volunteered in her classroom in college. Dr. Sax, too, talked about the way parents compromise teachers' authority when their children witness them calling into question and complaining about their teachers.

When I was in fourth grade, my best friend tested into an area magnet school for gifted and talented students. I begged my parents to pay a private practitioner to have me tested so that I might follow her. I will never forget the day my mom picked me up from after school care and revealed that I didn't get in. My test score wasn't high enough. I wasn't smart enough. A memory like that stays with you. My best friend went to the gifted school, and I stayed in the regular school. That day, I learned that I would have to work harder than everyone else if I wanted to get ahead.

Fast forward 28 years to several months ago, when my child, along with the rest of her class, was tested to skip her grade's math class and advance to the next level. She came home devastated when she didn't test into the advanced math class.

Did I fail my child? Was she falling behind? I confided in a few friends who encouraged me to seek out her teacher and the school's administrators to appeal the decision--something they were sure was possible. "That's not our parenting philosophy," I replied, although I couldn't quite remember why.

Dr. Sax reminded us. He assured his audience that letting our children fail would prepare them for disappointments that would surely come at some juncture. That day I scooped up my daughter and took her to ice cream (and didn't call the school).

Suddenly I wondered if some of my biggest parenting mistakes - sending my daughter off to school in India with an amoeba or sending her to a bare bones sleep-away camp where she wasn't fed enough, got a cold, and wasn't allowed to call her parents - should actually be my proudest moments. Now my husband and I know that our daughter can handle disappointment. She is resilient. She'll bounce back. As Katy Perry sings, she'll roar?

Dr. Leonard Sax speaks at the Crowne Plaza in Palo Alto on Sunday, February 9, 2014 from 12:00 PM to 2:00 PM.