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“Choose” Failure

Emily BenningtonBy Emily Bennington


Perversely structured.


That’s how David Brooks described the background of today’s grads in his recent New York Times op/ed.

As I read Brooks’ commentary, I happened to be seated next to the career center director of a major university. “I’ve been working with grads for nearly two decades,” she said, “and I’ve never seen anything like the students today.” As a career author in the new grad space, I hear tons of stories that would be comical if they weren’t so sad. Most recently, it’s the noted uptick in students who need a parent present for job interviews.

Naturally, it’s easy to blame the students in these situations (“they’re too entitled”), but the bigger problem is us. We – as parents – are so eager to shelter our kids and keep them safe from any possible harm that we fail to realize that this in itself is harming them. Maybe our overprotective nature comes from wanting our children to have more than we did growing up. Maybe it stems from having kids older and being in a position to appreciate them more. Whatever the underlying reasons, this coddling is playing out in a crop of young adults who are dangerously struggling with their own independence.

As the mother of two boys, I have to remind myself constantly that the biggest responsibility I have isn’t to protect them from the world, it’s to help them develop the skills needed to live in it productively. Which is to say, to live without me. So, I’ll let them fail. I’ll let them fail because as long as they are safe and warm inside their comfort zones, they will never grow. And as painful as it will be to watch from the sidelines, failure – along with loss, grief, heartbreak, disappointment, frustration, etc. – will be part of growth for them.

Call me the anti-Tiger mom, but leaving them alone is my way of helping them become equipped to navigate the perversely unstructured world as we know it today.  From terrorism and seemingly endless natural disasters, to our national debt and beyond, if we expect the next generation to step up and tackle the very real problems of our time, we need to stop feeding them and start teaching them how to fish. I’m not a perfect parent by any stretch, but one of the things I’m most proud of is that my kids know when they get in an argument with each other, there’s one rule: Figure it out.  Even at six and four, they are expected to work together to find a solution they can live with. The good news is they are becoming (little) masters of compromise. The bad news is they try to negotiate everything now.

So be it. It’s a small price to help them learn a skill they’ll use for the rest of their lives, including when I don’t accompany them on job interviews.

2011 speaker Emily Bennington is coauthor of the very first business book every new grad should own, “Effective Immediately: How to Fit In, Stand Out, and Move Up at Your First Real Job.” She has been featured on Fox Business, CNN and ABC, and she also writes for, The Huffington Post and Forbes Woman. Emily is very proud to be presenting the breakout, What the Most Successful Women DO Differently: Practical Advice for Rising Leaders, at the Pennsylvania Conference for Women alongside Kate Betts, contributing editor of Time magazine. She can be reached online at or on Twitter @EmilyBennington.