My parents repeatedly tell the story of the youngest of my two sisters running around on top of five huge beams of wood in our driveway. According to the story, she was darting back and forth, closer and closer to the edge of a four-foot drop.
Watching her out the window, Mom said to Dad: “She’s gonna fall.” Dad responded with: “Probably.” Mom asked, “Do you think we should go out there?” As they continue to tell the story, more than 20 years later, they shrugged at each other and watched as my sister did indeed fall off the beams.
Bad parents? Not at all. Why? One: my sister bounced right back up and kept going. Two: she learned early, as did all three of us, that there was nothing to fear in taking a risk like that. Sure, she could have gotten hurt — she didn’t — but my parents also could have run out there, screaming, and stifled an adventurous spirit.
It’s Not Cute
I don’t have kids, and probably never will, but I still find myself surrounded by little girls. Many of my friends have them, and my sister has one who will be five later this year. They are cute.
What isn’t cute is when the collective world encourages “the cuteness” of their fear of something. Anything. From picking up a bug or even being near one to a fear of playing a sport. I’m not saying these little ladies’ fears aren’t legit. I fear standing on chairs and driving across bridges, but my parents have never told me it was cute to be afraid.
Author and former San Francisco firefighter Caroline Paul recently wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times about why we teach girls it’s cute to fear. Paul points out that when we encourage girls that it’s cute to be afraid, we are discouraging them from taking calculated risks.
I don’t mean engage in risky behaviors that will jeopardize health or welfare, and it’s obvious that Paul doesn’t mean that either. That’s not cute. Paul and I mean self-esteem boosting risks like picking up and moving across the country or around the world or leaving a cushy job for something unknown and exciting.
When fear is encouraged by those around us, like our parents and caregivers, our self-esteem is hampered both automatically and because we cannot recognize the good risks from the bad ones.
It’s a Fear of Failure
Teaching fear is teaching complacency. This in turn teaches kids that it’s not okay to fail. Perhaps that sounds backwards, but think about it: if kids are afraid, they won’t try something. When we try things, there is a chance we could fail.
Dr. Laura Miele-Pascoe, a professor with Ohio University’s Masters in Coaching Education, extolled the virtues of teaching kids the positives of failure in an article for Psychology Today last year. Going further than Paul, Miele-Pascoe encourages parents, coaches, and educators to discontinue the practice of Everybody Wins.
When I was a sports reporter and then an educator, I disliked this practice. It may encourage a certain level of camaraderie, but it also teaches kids failure is not an option. Miele-Pascoe states correctly that “children will be exponentially more distraught when they inevitably face them later in life.” The earlier children are taught that failure is not a bad thing, the more they will draw from it.
In her article, Miele-Pascoe uses her daughter’s softball play as an example. Thrown out between second and third base, her daughter used that failure as motivation to run harder during her next base-running opportunity, thus leading to success.
The older we grow, the more we begin to see failures as opportunities for success. One of the habits of truly successful people is using failure as inspiration for innovation. Both Paul and Miele-Pascoe note that teaching fear and discouraging failure only discourages girls from seeking out such ambition.
Don’t Fear Success
In today’s world, so many women are taught to fear success. We are discouraged from ambition. It starts at a very young age when we are taught that we should fear riding our bikes down that giant hill or when we are told that hunting is a boy thing.
We need to stop encouraging fear in our girls. Then we will start encouraging them to be adventurous in all they do, in work and life.
Photo by AmberStroce on flickr – Some Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
H. E. James, MBA
Hattie is a writer and researcher living in Boise, Idaho. She has a varied background, including education and sports journalism. She is a former electronic content manager and analyst for a government agency. She recently completed her MBA and enjoys local ciders.
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