I am about half way through reading How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims.  The author was Dean of Freshman and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University.  She thinks that the well-meaning parents who over-parent their children are really setting them up for failure and anxiety instead of success.

Some of the reasons that she thinks that parenting changed in the mid 1980’s are:

  1.  Increased awareness of child abductions.
  2. The idea that our children are not doing enough schoolwork (big factor was the publication of A Nation at Risk in 1983).
  3. The onset of the self-esteem movement.
  4. The creation of the play-date (practical scheduling tool when more mothers were entering the workforce) as parents began more closely observing and monitoring children at play.

Good summary quote from p.14, “Parental vigilance and technology buffer the world for our children, but we won’t always be there to be on the lookout for them.  Raising a kid to independent adulthood is our biological imperative and an awareness of the self in one’s surroundings is an important life skill for a kid to develop.  When we’re tempted to let our presence be what protects them, we need to ask, To what end?  How do we prevent and protect while teaching kids the skills they need?  How do we teach them to do it on their own?”

My youngest son is already 15 so some of the insights and recommendations about avoiding over-parenting are interesting but not as practical for me.  However, we desire to “launch” our boys well into adulthood and the ideas from this book are helping me to be more thoughtful about how we can help them become more independent as they leave the “roost” (#2 son is set to move to college in 2 weeks).  I do think we have done a good job with this (but can certainly improve).  All three of our sons are doing well and we continue to be impressed with their choices and their ability to make good decisions and figure things out as they go.  Our oldest son is in his 3rd year of college and living with a group of friends down in San Diego.  I’m so proud of him, and he is doing a great job in the transition to adulthood.

How to Raise an Adult book

“But in reality often we create parameters, conditions, and limits within which our kids are permitted to dream – with a check-listed childhood as the paths to achievement.” (p.41)

On page 81-83, the author lists the things that our 18 year olds need to be able to do (and then addresses why and how we are failing to equip them properly to do these things):

  • Able to talk to strangers – bank clerks, faculty, mechanics, health care providers, etc.
  • Able to find his/her way around a campus or town
  • Able to manager his/her assignments, workload and deadlines
  • Able to handle interpersonal problems
  • Able to contribute to the running of a household
  • Able to cope with the ups and downs of courses and workloads, college-level work, tough teachers, competitive situations, bosses and others
  • Able to earn and manage money
  • Able to take risks

In 2013 the American College Health Association surveyed almost 100,000 college students from 153 different campuses about their health and here is what they found:

  • 84 percent felt overwhelmed by all they had to do
  • 79 percent felt exhausted (not from physical activity)
  • 61 percent felt very sad
  • 57 percent felt lonely
  • 51 percent felt overwhelming anxiety
  • 47 percent felt things were hopeless
  • 38 percent felt overwhelming anger
  • 32 percent felt so depressed that it was difficult to function
  • 8 percent seriously considered suicide
  • 6.5 percent intentionally cut or otherwise injured themselves

These statistics paint a very grave picture of the condition of our young adults.  Somehow, we must be able to help them and better prepare them to deal with the challenges of life.

Psychologist and author Dr. Madeline Levine shares her research on the three ways we might be over-parenting and unintentionally causing our children psychological harm:

  1. When we do for our kids what they can already do for themselves.
  2. When we do for our kids what they can almost do for themselves.
  3. When our parenting behavior is motivated by our own ego.

The author also tells some hard to believe real life stories of parents with good intentions getting over-involved with their kids’ college classes and professors as well as their employers after college, including trying to negotiate the salaries for their kids or trying to attend their job interviews or directly contacting their bosses to discuss issues at work.

Not only does over-parenting cause harm and fail to equip our kids for adulthood, it also hurts the parents by causing anxiety and stress in their lives.

Between my wife and me I am the one who has more of a tendency to over-parenting.  I’m so glad that my wife helps to keep me in check.  I am sorry to my boys for the times when I have over-parented, and I resolve to do a better job of helping them be more independent.  I have seen how this also makes space for healthier relationships with our kids as they transition to adulthood.


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