Preparing Boys for Life.

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Pro-failure, as defined by our boys
Jay Greytok '83, Head of Middle School

The creativity of Middle School boys is only limited by their imagination, especially when it comes to problem solving. In our efforts to help build men of character, we provide boys with the opportunity to solve problems on their own and allow, in their words, pro-failure. Most of our boys relish the chance to take a risk and realize their full potential, without the fear of failure or a perceived consequence. However, as adults who wish nothing but success for our sons, we can easily inhibit this opportunity for growth by forcing our judgment or decisions in this process.

Recent university studies indicate that students who live in highly structured households with little opportunity to make their own decisions grow up with poor executive function capabilities. This means when our children get to college or beyond, they cannot make decisions on their own, and therefore struggle with basic day-to-day operations. They can become powerless when faced with the simplest of adversity. They develop into excellent sheep as they mindlessly follow orders and direction as members of the flock but when left alone, they cannot survive an attack from the hungry wolves. So, how do we prepare our boys for the future, especially those who do need our help right now? Think of the answer our boys in sixth grade provided us, pro-failure.

The creativity of Middle School boys is only limited by their imagination, especially when it comes to problem solving. In our efforts to help build men of character, we provide boys with the opportunity to solve problems on their own and allow, in their words, pro-failure. Most of our boys relish the chance to take a risk and realize their full potential, without the fear of failure or a perceived consequence. However, as adults who wish nothing but success for our sons, we can easily inhibit this opportunity for growth by forcing our judgment or decisions in this process.

The cost of falling short, especially in Middle School, is often temporary. It not only becomes a practical part of their development but extremely important in building good decision making skills, and the independence that boys crave. The data from these studies confirms that there is more harm done when we ask so little of the boys regarding life skills yet too much when it comes to academics. We create children who cannot be independent and only make decisions after talking to their parents. We may be over-parenting if we do any of the following:

  • We do for our kids what they can already do for themselves.
  • We do for our kids what they can almost do for themselves.
  • Our parenting behavior is motivated by our own egos.

Dr. Madeline Levine, psychologist, educator, and co-founder of Challenge Success, a project of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, says that when we parent this way we "deprive our kids of the opportunity to be creative, to problem solve, to develop coping skills, to build resilience, to figure out what makes them happy, to figure out who they are. In short, it deprives them of the chance to be, well, human."

We can all agree that we want what is best for our children, however, if we over protect them, the short-term wins may lead to long-term losses. As Dr. Levine states, "When children aren't given the space to struggle through things on their own, they don't learn to problem solve very well. They don't learn to be confident in their own abilities, and it can affect their self-esteem. The other problem with never having to struggle is that you never experience failure and can develop an overwhelming fear of failure and of disappointing others. Both the low self-confidence and the fear of failure can lead to depression or anxiety."

Think of it this way, the "M" in Middle School stands for mistakes. We know and actively work with the boys to help them learn from their mistakes to be better in the future. At home, start providing the boys with the opportunity to make simple mistakes and grow with appropriate guidance and consequences. Chances are they will figure it out for themselves, which is a critical element to people's mental health. Understanding that we are preparing them for the marathon of life and not the sprint of Middle School might be the best thing for them.

- Jay Greytok '83, Head of Middle School

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