Parents…Let Your Kids Lose Sometimes

Parents...Let Your KidsLose Sometimes

Soooooo…. I don’t even know where to begin.

A few weeks ago, Nayla Kidd disappeared from NYU. For those who don’t know the story, she was an engineering student and, after a couple of weeks, she was found, alive and healthy. She’d dropped out, moved to another part of the city, changed all her bank accounts and cell number, disabled all social media accounts, and was not responding to even her mother’s attempts at reaching her.

Side note: I don’t know what kind of mother SHE has, but I know De Washington will issue an APB if I don’t return her phone call within 4 hours, and I’m 38. But I digress.

There is a bigger problem here. This young woman said she was always the “best of the best.” Growing up, she attended a private boarding school in California after being “bored” in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. She arrived at NYU and was overwhelmed by the size of the school and her small drop in a much larger bucket. She had trouble adjusting and didn’t like school anymore. So what did she do? She quit. But not only did she just quit, she put her closest friends and family through a couple of weeks of hell in the process.

Nayla KiddSource: Columbia Spectator

This young lady’s story (while definitely extreme) is all too common among students. What happened to healthy competition? What happened to perseverance and staying the course?

I’ll tell you what happened….parents.

That’s right. There are too many parents trying to ensure their kids are “the best” that they forget to show them the importance of losing. And yes, losing is important, especially as a child.

How many times do you now see every kid getting a participation award? How many recent cases have we seen where schools are removing valedictorians from graduation, so as not to make other students feel bad? When did we become a nation of gold stars for everyone?

By teaching children to lose, you prepare them for life: academically, professionally, and personally. Everything won’t go as planned. You will make mistakes. Someone will be better than you. You will be better than someone else. At the end of the day, it is that healthy competition that prepares you to be truly successful.

There are two things that learning to lose helps to prevent in students: 1) the anxiety, depression, and burnout associated with being an overachiever and 2) the expectation of entitlement to unearned success.

This young lady clearly experienced a little bit of both. Had she been exposed to some form of loss in life, then she definitely would’ve been prepared to handle the pressure and expectations that come with attending a university with over 50,000 students. She wouldn’t have just bailed when things got tough. She definitely would’ve reached out to someone for help, especially her mother. Personally, I think she chose an easy out, made even worse by the intentional nature of it all.

I can’t tell you how many college students (and parents) I’ve encountered who fall into the latter category. They think they “deserve a grade” simply because they showed up to class and did mediocre work, at best. There is no concept of hard work, endurance, accountability, and tenacity. But I can’t blame the students (well, I can somewhat). I blame the parents, who argued K-12 educators down at the end of each quarter when their child wasn’t allowed to do extra credit to make up for their piss-poor performance during the school year. Those are the parents who felt it was more important to protest when their child didn’t “win” instead of using the loss as a teachable moment to illustrate that sometimes you have to work just a little bit harder and try again. They are the same parents who are upset when their child doesn’t get accepted to certain colleges and universities, or fail a class in college that the student seemed to have no problems with in high school.

Participation Trophy

Source: & A.F. Branco

There’s a line in a song by DMX (yes, I quote DMX) that simply states “Everybody is the man in their own hood.”

Translation: It’s easy to be the big fish in a small pond. But when you get to larger waters, there are a LOT of other big fish swimming around with you.

I remember one mother who was FURIOUS that her high-school senior didn’t get accepted to a university when she had a 3.7 GPA.

Me: Did your daughter take any AP classes?
Mother: No.
Me: Did she participate in extracurricular activities?
Mother: Not really. But she has a 3.7!
Me: Well, to pay you the respect of being honest, there are students graduating with 4.5 GPA’s so, in the grand scheme of things, you seem to forget your child isn’t the only student applying for admissions.
Mother: *crickets*

This is what students are seeing. This is what they are taught. You don’t have to be great. You don’t have to be extraordinary. You simply have to just “show up.” Well, sorry but, that’s not even half the battle these days.

When I was in high school, my dad (a K-12 educator and high school coach) gave me a t-shirt that said “The player who beats you tomorrow is practicing today.” He taught me that you win some and you lose some, but at the end of the day, you always give it your best.

We have to get back to this type of teaching with our students.

Dr. Nicki Washington is a computer science professor and author of “Prepped for Success: What Every Parent Should Know About the College Application Process” and “Stay Prepped: 10 Steps to Succeeding in College (and Enjoying the Experience).” She is a featured speaker on computer science education, diversity in computer science and STEM, and preparing for college.

Twitter: @dr_nickiw

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