Why is it that so many University students appear to be failing, not coping and dropping out of college?

The logical answer to this would be that these students are somehow unable to cope and succeed with the pressures that University puts upon them. It’s strange because many of these kids coped just fine when they were at home; in fact, they were straight A students who had never failed and always succeeded. Why is this? Could it perhaps be the way in which they were raised? Are we as parents unintentionally doing something that’s setting our children up for failure? Could it be that they have not developed sufficient resilience and not acquired adequate coping skills?

How do we develop resilience?

To develop resilience we have to reach a point where we recognize the futility of a situation, where frustration reaches boiling point and we realize that: This is it, It won’t work, I can’t have it or I will have to do it. Reaching this point forces us to re-think: What can I do? What am I going to have to do? How can I possibly make this work? At this junction, we have to learn to adapt and move on or accept failure, learn from it and move on. Each time we face futility and adapt, we build a bit more resilience and become stronger. If we are denied the opportunity to reach this point, we do not get a chance to develop resilience.

Parenting patterns which may prevent children from developing resilience

  • Being rescued too much
  • Being saved from failing
  • Being prevented / saved from making mistakes
  • Having too much done for them and not having to do enough for themselves
  • Having parents who are afraid of saying NO and upsetting them
  • Having inconsistent or lack of boundaries and limits
  • Being over-indulged with praise
  • Being prevented / saved / excused from facing the consequences of their actions
  • The abundance and accessibility of the internet. Children today live in an instant world, a world of instant gratification

In 2009 Bill Gates gave a speech to Harvard students, his 11 Rules of Life. It was something that went viral and which I think most parents who saw it agreed with. His “rules” referred to many things but the two that resonated with me most were:

“Rule 6: If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes, learn from them.

Rule 8: Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life HAS NOT. In some schools they have abolished failing grades and they’ll give you as MANY TIMES as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to ANYTHING in real life”

No parent likes to see their child fail, but allowing them to fail in the little things early on in their lives is not a big deal but continually rescuing them and saving them from failing certainly is. It robs them of the capacity to learn, adapt, make sure it doesn’t happen again, move on, learn from the experience and, most importantly, acquire resilience. When children have never had to pick themselves up from failure, they don’t get a chance to learn how to. When they do then fail at something, which invariably they will, they understandably find it hard to cope. It is a new experience for them.

Failing a Grade 3 spelling test because they forgot about the test is really not a big deal. However, continually reminding your children of their tests and deadlines, rescuing them from the risk of failure and being a super efficient PA to them will not help them to learn to remember for themselves. Letting your child go to school without their lunch because they forgot it and experience being hungry and having to work out how they will get some food will be what helps them remember their lunch in the future. Not reminding them may seem cruel, but they will not suffer too much from failing a Grade 3 spelling test or from forgetting their lunch in Grade 7! However, as they get older and the stakes get higher, children need to be able to rely on themselves and learning to do this during their childhood and adolescent years will prepare them for facing the obstacles that life will present them as they journey into adulthood.

As parents, we are there to lead and guide our children, to expose them to experiences that they will learn from. We are there to support any failings and help them learn from their mistakes. We have knowledge and wisdom that our children don’t yet have but they need to be given the opportunity to learn from life’s lessons. Ultimately, this is what will help them become resilient and strong.

If you have anything you would like to share on resilience, I would love to hear from you.

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