This review is a slight departure from my usual topics, as the book “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success” doesn’t specifically deal with digital parenting and technology. The book takes a look at so-called “helicopter parenting”, the “checklisted” childhood and college application “arms race” prevalent in American child rearing. Is the parent’s desire for their child’s high achievement and acceptance into the “right” college hurting or helping children?
Author Julie Lythcott-Haims is a former Dean of Students at Stanford University who observed that on her college campus and others, parents were more and more involved – even enmeshed – in their children’s lives. She includes many examples of what I consider overparenting to the extreme: parents accompanying their grown children on a job interviews, for example. She started to wonder if this level of involvement is harmful to young adults as they graduate college and head out into the world. Will they be able to make the most basic decisions on their own, having always had mom and dad there to help with decisions (or actually make their decisions) throughout adolescence and young adulthood?
I was interested in reading this book for several reasons, one being that my daughter is starting high school, so it won’t be long until she starts thinking about colleges. I’ve heard from friends of mine who have college-bound kids how much the college application process has changed since I attended college a few decades ago. But mostly I was interested in the author’s thoughts and conclusions about overparenting. This topic comes up a lot in the comments section of my site on many articles. Go take a look at the great debates on a few of these posts! Some say the use of parental control software is a prime example of overparenting or “helicopter” parenting – hovering and watching over a child’s every move as they navigate the online world. And some say that NOT doing any monitoring of online activity is downright negligent! So it’s not surprising that as parents we have a hard time knowing where exactly to draw the line.
“Essentially, when we overparent, it’s as if we get inside our kid’s head and live there – like our personal rendition of Being John Malkovich.”
The book is organized into two main sections. The first covers the current state of overparenting – how this method of parenting evolved (mostly from good intentions), and why it can be detrimental to kids AND parents. The second half of the book offers suggestions for alternate ways of parenting that will help prepare children for success; maybe not success as defined by our achievement-obsessed culture, but success as defined by raising well-adjusted adults with the ability to navigate the world independently of their parents.
“Parents protect, direct, and handle so much for children today that we prevent them from the very growth that is essential to their development into adult human beings. And precisely because we’re so helpful and supportive, we take away their need for what was once a common adolescent and young adult cry for independence. Today’s kids are, for the most part, grateful for our presence, which feels damn wonderful. But have we bred the desire for independence right out of the next generation?”
Here’s a simple and effective mantra for parents
One portion of the book that really resonated with me is this little nugget of wisdom from Chapter 14 about building life skills. The author’s friend Stacey Ashlund defined a strategy for building skills in her children:
- First we do it for you
- Then we do it with you
- Then we watch you do it
- Then you do it completely independently
This approach can start when children are very young. Take the example of getting dressed. First, we dress our children. Then we help them get their clothes on. Next we’ll observe and make sure the kids can get their clothes on by themselves. And then from then on, our kids just get dressed. Kind of a no brainer, right?
On this site I take a similar approach when it comes to kids and the internet and technology/devices. First, we do it for you, i.e. you’re too young to even use a computer! Next, we do it with you – sit alongside school-age children while they navigate on the web or use the iPad. Then, we watch you do it – this is the phase where parental control monitoring tools may be useful; we let older kids and teens use computers, tablets and phones on their own but with a little oversight. And then finally, we remove the monitoring once we are assured that kids are ready to navigate the online world on their own. This last one is an important step – at some point parents MUST pull the plug!
Also in Chapter 14 is some information that I think all parents will find useful – not just for those of college-bound kids. There is a sample list of life skills that children must acquire, and the age at which they can start learning those skills. I wish I had seen this list when my daughter was younger! (Not saying we haven’t taught her life skills, but perhaps some could have been taught at an earlier age). I think sometimes as parents we just get into habits and get stuck. We forget to move on to the next step. But that last step is what is needed for our children to take care of themselves in the future.
How technology provides a means to an end
There are some specific mentions of technology, especially cell phones. “Just because we can be in constant contact, does it mean we should? Is it good?” These are concerns that didn’t exist just ten-fifteen years ago.
With kids away at college, cell phones provide the means for parents to stay connected with their children. And while there is certainly no harm with a simple “Hi, how are things going” message from time to time, stories abound of multiple check-ins throughout the day, and students turning to parents (via phone or text) as their first instinct when confronted with an issue. The technology provides the means to continue with overparenting even when the parent is not physically present. This can be harmful: “If we’re right there with them as they do everything (or checking up before, during, and after by cell phone) we’re undermining their confidence by indirectly sending the message ‘I don’t think you can do this without me’”.
As for kids with cell phones at earlier ages, the author suggests giving kids a cell phone if it makes you feel safer when having your child out and about without you; but to also enforce limits on electronics. “You’re the parent. Make a rule.”
I found “How to Raise an Adult” to be a valuable read. I recommend the book for parents of kids of any age – from toddlers to teens – even if you don’t think you’re a helicopter parent. If you do read the book, come back and let me know what you think!
- Buy on Amazon*: How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success
- Author’s website
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