When I first started my work at the University of Minnesota, 4-H was new to me. I can remember attending a day of judging at the local county fair. I sat in awe of this experience and was envious that I had never had it.
I remember in that county fair judging experience that one youth brought an arts and craft project that was less than stellar. Rather than hyping up the project, the judge got the boy to reflect on what went wrong. In the 10 minutes that they spent together, this young person was able to take constructive feedback, and I honestly think that he walked away knowing how to improve.
People will often tell you that judging is a place for youth to reflect on their learning with the support of a caring adult. True. What they won't tell you is it's a place where failure is okay.
What?! Failure is okay. That might seem like an odd thing to associate with learning, but I would argue that we have to do more in the way of helping youth cope with failure.
What does that have to do with youth development? A lot. According to Paul Tough the author of How Children Succeed. Grit, curiosity, and other character traits are important predictors of future success. Check out an interview with Paul Tough on Minnesota Public Radio. An underlying theme throughout his book is that youth need to have experiences in failing in order to grow and learn to succeed. If we are constantly letting youth explore only in "safe zones," we are stunting their ability to grow and build important resiliency skills.
Youth programs are great places to allow youth to fail and be supported. As Tough writes about a chess coach who was a prime example, "Her job was not to prevent them from failing; it was to teach them how to learn from each failure, how to stare at their failures with unblinking honesty, how to confront exactly why they had messed up." How cool would it be if youth learned all of that in their after-school programs?! I think it's a reasonable goal.
How can youth programs help youth to learn to cope with failure? Can youth programs help youth to develop grit and other important character traits? How can you as a youth worker help young people to learn when they fail?
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