Your Son Isn't Lazy, He's Afraid to Fail

Last week, Episode #448 of the Art of Manliness podcast dropped. I happened to catch it over the weekend and discovered that if you're not listening on a regular basis, you're doing yourself a real disservice. In this episode, they discuss raising sons to be self-sufficient, hard-working men. Though I disagreed with the guest a few times, the overall message struck me as deeply profound.

The host, Brett McKay, interviewed child psychologist Adam Price, who has also authored the book, He's Not Lazy: How to Empower Your Son to Believe in Himself. In the hour-long podcast, Price covers a range of important topics. Apathy, poor performance in school, a lack of motivation in teenage boys all seem epidemic. In this episode, McKay and Price talk about ways to overcome these afflictions of modern society.

My favorite line comes toward the end of the hour, when Dr. Price says, "I don't want my kids to be happy. I want them to be able to work hard. Because if they know how to work hard, they'll be happy."

He also paraphrases Mark Twain: "When I was sixteen, my father didn't know how the world worked. I'm amazed at how smart he got by the time I turned twenty-three." (The actual quote is, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.")

The premise Price puts forth is that fear of failure is rampant among young males in particular. As McKay says in his show summary:

Dr. Price argues that the real reason many young men are unmotivated is not that they don’t care about succeeding, but that they feel too much pressure to do so, and are scared of failing. We discuss why nagging and over-parenting simply exacerbates this issue, and how stepping back and giving boys more autonomy can help them become more self-directed and find their footing.

Along the way, Price discusses the prevalence of unmotivated boys in America's schools. He posits that they're not lazy, but that they fear risk and putting themselves out there to fail. Price says that in his clinical practice, he's found that giving boys autonomy can lead to more self-direction.

I found this an important point, as the rise of helicopter parenting and lawnmower parenting have removed the ability of children to learn from failure in too many cases. Helicopter parents hover overhead and swoop in whenever they see a problem that their baby may not be able to handle. Lawnmower parents mow away any obstacles their baby might face in life. Neither over-parenting technique allows children to learn life lessons for themselves.

It's a point I've contemplated for a long time. As I sit here with the air conditioning running on an uncharacteristically warm October night here in the Pacific Northwest, I'm once again reminded that we face very little actual adversity in our modern human life. We have very few predators. I'm writing this article on a very affordable laptop computer. Smartphones are ubiquitous. Americans, in particular, enjoy mobility, increasing freedom, better medical treatment, economic development, and consumer choice. In such prosperity, how do parents teach their children to overcome adversity?

One could make the argument that this environment leads to the apathy and fear of failure that Price describes in his book. I quibble with his assertion that society expects certain things from people — boys become popular because of how they can throw a ball and whatnot. These arguments strike me as lazy and a way to avoid dealing with each individual on his own terms. But those are minor quibbles. Overall, his point stands. More and more teenage boys find themselves paralyzed by expectations of success from parents.

Your son isn't lazy. Your son deals with the stress created by a fear of failure. Throw in that he might be a late bloomer and you should realize as a parent that you're not going to end up with Doogie Howser, M.D. Let him have his autonomy. Let him do more on his own. Let him fail. Let him learn how to recover from failure.

Listen to the podcast. You may find it as profound as I did.

You can learn more about Adam Price's book at www.hesnotlazy.com.

Jeff Reynolds is the author of the forthcoming book, Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy, to be released February 26, 2019. You can follow Jeff on Twitter @ChargerJeff.