How to Raise an Adult
A conversation with best-selling author Julie Lythcott-Haims on the pitfalls of overparenting
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
January 1, 2019
When did parenting become a verb?
When did every activity in childhood become a relentless pursuit of “enrichment?”
When did the measure of one’s worth as a young person become grades and scores and the length of a childhood “resume?”
We Need to Talk
For an inspiring evening of adult conversation about raising kids, register here to join New York Times best-selling author, former Stanford Dean and motivational speaker, Julie Lythcott-Haims, for her insights into breaking free of the overparenting trap and preparing kids for success – Thursday, January 24, 7:00 pm, at Temple Beth El.
In her provocative manifesto How to Raise an Adult, Julie Lythcott-Haims draws on research, on conversations with admissions officers, educators, and employers, and on her own observations as a mother and as a student dean to highlight the ways in which overparenting harms children, their stressed-out parents and society at large. While empathizing with the fretful parents’ best hopes and intentions that lead to helicoptering and overhelping, Lythcott-Haims offers practical advice and strategies that allow children to make their own mistakes and develop the resilience, resourcefulness, and inner determination necessary for success.
A Stanford University grad, with a JD from Harvard Law School and an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts, Julie has spoken to more than 300 audiences, ranging from 100 to 6,000, over the last three and a half years since publishing her book, How to Raise an Adult. Her second book, the award-winning prose and poetry memoir Real American, examines the thousand small cuts racism imposes on African-Americans. Her third book, How to Be an Adult, focusing on young adults aged 18-35, is forthcoming and scheduled for publication in 2020.
“I am deeply interested in what prevents humans from leading meaningful, fulfilling lives,” Julie writes. “We parents are the lucky humans given the humbling task of raising a child. We’re supposed to be alongside them, guiding them, giving them more and more room to try, learn, grow, persevere, achieve. But, these days, we can tend to get in the way by micromanaging our kid’s path or by outright dragging them down it. We think we know what we’re doing—but we end up depriving them of developing self-efficacy. And that leads to anxiety and depression. So, we have to get our act together. We have to get out of our kid’s way so they can develop the skills and smarts they’ll need in order to thrive as adults . . .
“Getting it together” in conversation with Julie Lythcott-Haims
Between book talk travels and the holidays, myJewishDetroit had the chance to catch up with Julie for a brief interview. Here are a few of her insights:
On parenting vs. overparenting
Julie: “Two of the hardest truths I feel compelled to share:
Number one, I’ve learned if I’m to make any headway on this topic of parenting, I have to be willing to confess to my own overparenting tendencies. I have shifted – or evolved – from being a dean frustrated by what I have seen happen to other people’s young adult kids, to realizing that I’m a mother who’s not going to be able to let go of my kid in college. I realize when I put that mirror up close – I see the very problem I’m talking about. And it gives me a lot of compassion for parents. It means I’m a storyteller in my talk, telling a lot of stories about my own failing – as a mom of two teenagers – and my own learning as a parent around this topic.
The second thing – and related, is I’ve come to understand that our own needy egos as parents is fueling much of thing we call “overparenting.” The word “parenting” in itself is a lovely linguistic example of the problem . . . and I think it speaks to the agony and anxiety we feel about being very good at this task of raising children to adulthood. I joke when I give a talk that we used to call it child rearing. Nowadays we put ourselves at the center of the endeavor to raise children so much so that we call it parenting.
As parents, we need to know that all those things we do in the immediate short term in the attempt to give our kids an advantage, all those things that make us feel we’re a good parent, by advocating for our kids, by making sure that things happen for them, by rescuing them from the hard lessons of becoming an adult, we enable them to become forever dependent.”
Julie: “Children aren’t in any way the drivers of our obsession with social media and smart phones. As parents, I think we have not done a good job of regulating the role of technology in our lives and in our family lives. We find ourselves at its mercy, and we find our children at its mercy, and we’re now in a tizzy trying to reclaim our parental role and set boundaries on the use of an item that has its merits, but also has become an addiction. We ourselves are addicted to refreshing every page, and we’re lamenting how kids don’t get off their phones. We’re the first generation that has to deal with the broad reach of our technology and we’re the first set of parents who have to contend with social media and smart phones. So, we’re still sorting out what’s the right role of media in our lives – figuring it out – the hard way.”
On takeaways from “the talk”
Julie: “There are things I’ve been saying in different ways forever, but over the last few talks in November and December, I started encapsulating them in a package so that people can easily access and literally hold on to. I call it “Four, Three, Two, One.” The steps are on my website, describing what any parent can start doing or stop doing immediately when they see themselves in the examples I offer of overparenting.” For example, the FOUR steps to teach a child any task are:
Do it for me.
Do it with me.
Watch me do it.
I can do it.
THREE things to stop immediately:
Stop saying “we” when you really mean your child
Stop arguing with teachers, coaches, etc. Teach your kid to respectfully advocate for themselves.
Stop doing their homework
TWO things that really matter when it comes to parenting:
Chores and love
ONE: The one-week tech cleanse to get your relationship with your kid back on track
On chores, yes, chores!
Julie: “The Harvard Grant Study – a study underway for decades and the longest ever conducted on humans – showed that people who are professionally successful in life turned out to have done chores as a child (or had a part time job in high school).
Why? Because chores teach a work ethic; they teach responsibility and accountability; they teach the mindset of “pitch in, be useful” . . . don’t wait for others to do the work, contribute your effort to the betterment of the whole.
I love telling this to audiences – because a good 15 to 20% burst into applause and the other people look around and think oh no! I have I missed the mark. And they can only imagine how to give their kids chores now.
It’s that old fashioned wisdom that turns out to have benefits – the very benefits we hope to accrue to our children.”
To get a flavor for Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book and talk, view her TED Talk – one of the most watched in 2016 and with more than 3.7 million views to date.
Federation’s invitation to an evening with Julie Lythcott-Haims is open to the community at no cost thanks to the generosity of the Susie and Norman Pappas Challenge Fund and the Zuckerman/Klein Family Foundation.