Making Mistakes… the Great American Freedom

Contributed by Melanie Miller, M.Ed.

I recently read an article, “In Defense of Failure; Making mistakes is a great American Freedom,” by Megan McArdle. (Time, Mar 22, 2010, 51) The article points out some wonderful ways in which our country has nurtured our entrepreneurial spirit and creativity and supported those of us who are willing to take risks, make mistakes and get back up on our feet and try again. Although it’s an article about our country and our current economic struggles, it reminds me that, we, as parents are the first teachers to foster our children’s’ creativity, ability to take risks and freedom to make mistakes.

The article went on to say that, in America, somewhere between two-thirds and three –quarters of all Americans report that they have considered starting their own business, whereas in Europe that number is only 40%. We have preserved our “most cherished freedom to fail” in this country. So much so that while the European Union is publishing documents on “overcoming the stigma of business failure,” executives in Silicon Valley proudly make failed start-ups the centerpieces of their resumes.

As the first teachers of our children, what are we teaching about taking risks? Do our own fears step in to save our children from the natural consequences of their actions? Do we ever contradict our children’s ideas…saying things like “It’s cold outside today, how can you possibly go out without a coat?” forgetting that our kids might be very aware of their body temperature and what they need to maintain it. When our children come to us with their developmentally appropriate ideas for a science project, do we question what they’re doing, offer our “words of wisdom,” and expertise – and then proceed to step in and pretty much take over the whole project?

As we continue to inch through the current recession, the article also reminds me of the tragedy of the great depression. We’ve all seen pictures of the soup lines and through the generations heard about the struggles of our grandparents and great parents to keep their jobs and feed their families. McArdle goes on to say that because we studied the failings of that era, our financial policy makers learned what didn’t work and how not to repeat the mistakes. Because those policy makers accepted our country’s mistakes and learned from them, we experienced our recent economic recession, and not a depression.

We are responsible for raising the future policy makers, the scientists who perhaps will discover a cure for cancer, advocates who will save our rainforests, and parents who will raise our grandchildren. Do we want them to welcome mistakes, learn from them and keep doing the amazing life changing work they are doing? Or do we want them to stop, to give up, to point fingers and blame and lose the entrepreneurial spirit that is so unique to our country?

McArdle believes that failure is one of the most important economic tools we have. So for the livelihood of your children and great grand children, send your kids off to school, tell them to have fun and make lots of mistakes. And then be there for your kids when they make mistakes. Listen and work together to repair them. Ask your kids what they learned from their mistake. And let them know that you have faith in them that they will get back on their feet and try again…just like Americans have done for so many years.

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