Letting kids fail means also letting them be irrelevant

I was the top seller of Girl Scout cookies in Illinois for two years in a row. But it was my mom who was the sales star: the first woman in senior management to force her underlings to buy Girl Scout cookies. She sold hundreds of boxes in a day.

Today it’s common for parents to do all the selling. But when I was a Girl Scout moms didn’t go to work, and dads weren’t selling Girl Scout cookies at the office until moms infiltrated corporate life.

I didn’t care about Girl Scout cookies. I knew intuitively that going door to door was a skill I didn’t want. I thought of it like my mom making sure to not learn to type so no one could hire her as a secretary.

I also knew that the girls in Girl Scouts were not cool. I saw myself as slumming just until the popular girls started to like me. But meanwhile, I didn’t want it to be that everyone could see my mom sold all the cookies.

So I knocked on doors every day after school for two weeks. I can remember thinking that I hate knocking on doors. And selling cookies is lonely, but if you go with another kid you have to share all the sales with her.

Today Girl Scouts are a Darth Vader Cookie Empire, but when I was selling people thought Thin Mints were pure and good. Yet for me each sale was bittersweet — a prequel to what I really hated, which was having to keep track of all the boxes of cookies as I was delivering them.

There were so many things wrong with this experience. But in hindsight I think when we have kids do stupid things, “just for the experience” what kids really learn is that stupid things are stupid. Kids need to do real things with real consequences in order to have an experience that matters.

I would have rather failed at selling cookies than been a star because my mom was so great at sales.

12 replies
  1. christy
    christy says:

    When I was a Girl Scout, I sold all my own cookies. Period. I hated it, but I did it.

    My daughter is now a Brownie. She wanted to sell lots of cookies, so I made her come to my office and go to (prearranged) people to ask. Some said, ‘yes,’ some said, ‘no.’ She sold a lot of cookies.

    I won’t do it for her, but I don’t know how valuable this is for her. Of course, I could just be projecting how much I hated it.

  2. celeste
    celeste says:

    I hated it, but my daughter is really good at it. She accepts “nos” with a shrug and moves on.

    This skill, kids, is life in a nutshell.

  3. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    I despised going door-to-door to sell things when I was a kid. Fortunately, the old ladies in our neighborhood all dutifully bought from me and my obligations were thus fulfilled.

    My dad tried to convince me it was necessary life experience and I bought it then but I don’t now. It was just a grind I had to endure in service to underfunded public-school programs.

    What was useful life experience was mowing those same old ladies’ lawns for pay. One of them asked. The others noticed. Soon I had a little business. It felt like a ton of money but it might have come to $30-50 a week. But what was valuable about it was learning to keep the old ladies happy, and learning how to manage what felt like a small fortune to me.

  4. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    The parents doing the selling is, I think, how most kids do fundraisers these days. There’s too much liability in sending a kid out alone door to door and I guess mom and dad figure if they have to go with the kid, why not just take the form to work.

  5. cortney
    cortney says:

    My mom forced me to keep hawking cookies until I was top seller. I hated it, but she didn’t care. Then my troop didn’t invite me back the next year, I think because the leader hated my mom so much. And maybe other little kids don’t like you when you’re crushing them in sales but are depressed about the whole thing. I don’t think a 10yo grows from this. So, same.

  6. Luke S.
    Luke S. says:

    Hi, Penelope. I’m finding a lot of truth and value in what I’ve read so far on your site. That said, I will add this to this thread:
    Christians and other moral people really can’t be associated with the Girl Scouts any more, and it has been that way for a while.
    The successor to the GS is the Heritage Girls organization. It was founded by veteran GS adult leaders who were disgusted at the values now inherent in the GS, who decided to take what had been good about the GS and preserve it. I suggest anyone with a young daughter, niece, granddaughter, etc., check them out.

    • Lexi
      Lexi says:

      Christians and other hate-and-fear-filled people. <—-fixed this for you. Unless you mean you took a stand against selling cookies as a capitalist enterprise.

  7. Louise
    Louise says:


    I agree with your point of view. I also was a Scout girl and I hated selling cookies. But my mum was on my back and did a large part of it for me… I often thought that I was good at selling but not at all.

  8. Terese
    Terese says:

    Does anyone understand how exploited the girls are during cookie season? They knock themselves out to make sales. Our troop made over ten thousand dollars for Girl Scouts USA. They received $1,000 for their efforts. Less than minimum wage when I added up the hours. How can we condone such exploitation in the name of teaching what it is to be an entrepreneure? Just sick.

  9. Craig
    Craig says:

    This is a good post, but I’d love to see you further develop the idea in the post title.

    “Letting kids fail means also letting them be irrelevant.” I clicked because I was (and still am) intrigued by what that means. What value judgments do you have around failure and irrelevancy? How are they linked in adulthood in your view, and how does knowledge inform how we raise our children?

    That’s a post I hope to read in the future.

  10. Lori
    Lori says:

    I sold Girl Scout cookies door-to-door, even though I was a “Brownie”. No parental help. I hated it. A box of GS cookies were $0.50 back then. When they raised the price to $0.75, I said, “That’s it. I’m done. Who in their right mind would buy a box of cookies for seventy five cents?!” …. Maybe I just hated it THAT much, because GS cookie sales are alive and well, nearly 50 years later, at over $4.00 a box… Who knew? :) PS. Still hate door-knocking (aka cold calling).

  11. Poppy
    Poppy says:

    Love the post, but I don’t get the headline. I don’t see how it relates with the following line: “Kids need to do real things with real consequences in order to have an experience that matters”. Isn’t failing a real consequence? Not a native English, so maybe that has something to do. I’d appreciate some clarification because the headline is what made me click and now I’m super curious.

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