The Danger of Overparenting

atkins-bookshelf-educationThe question that many parents seem to be asking is: “When did childhood get so stressful?” (Children are far too busy worrying about SAT scores and college admissions to ruminate about such triflin matters.) That was the catalyst for Julie Lythcott-Haims’s book, How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success. Lythcott-Haims as dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University for more than a decade, interacted with more than her share of helicopter and tiger parents. (One can only imagine that she developed quite an arsenal of defenses to deal with the onslaught of parental slings and arrows over the years.) Lythcott-Haims, who is also a parent of two, questions the impact of over-parenting on students and society as a whole. This former dean does not sugarcoat her assessment of so-called modern parenting. Lythcott-Haims places the blame of the development of over-parenting syndrome on Baby Boomers and their headlong pursuit of achievement and “success.” She believes that by protecting their children from life rather than preparing them for life, these parents have harmed the next generation. Unwittingly, Baby Boomer parents have raised adolescents who are coddled, dependent, immature, thin-skinned, and lack what Robert Louis Stevenson called “fire in the belly.” Ouch! Below is an excerpt from her book that appeared on the insightful “Mind/Shift: How We Will Learn” section of KQED’s website. Lythcott-Haims assertions certainly beg the question: if the Baby Boomer parents derailed the parenting train, can the next generation get it back on track?

“A heightened level of parental involvement in the lives of kids obviously stems from love—unquestionably a good thing. But by the time I stepped down as dean at Stanford in 2012 I had interacted not only with a tremendous number of parents but with students who seemed increasingly reliant upon their parents in ways that felt, simply, off. I began to worry that college [students] were somehow not quite formed fully as humans. They seemed to be scanning the sidelines for Mom or Dad…

Tremendous good can be said about the baby boomers—they were drafted into and questioned the Vietnam War, lay their bodies on the line in the monumental civil rights and civil liberties struggles of their day, and fueled the greatest economic growth our nation has ever seen. But did Boomers’ egos become interlaced with the accomplishments of their children to such an extent that they felt their own success was compromised if their children fell short of expectations? And did some of these parents go so far in the direction of their own wants and needs that they eclipsed their own kids’ chances to develop a critical psychological trait called “self-efficacy”—that is, what eminent psychologist Albert Bandura identifies as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations”? There’s a deeply embedded irony here: Maybe those champions of self-actualization, the Boomers, did so much for their kids that their kids have been robbed of a chance to develop a belief in their own selves.

Did the safety-conscious, academic achievement-focused, self-esteem-promoting, checklisted childhood that has been commonplace since the mid-1980s and in many communities has become the norm, rob kids of the chance to develop into healthy adults? What will become of young adults who look accomplished on paper but seem to have a hard time making their way in the world without the constant involvement of their parents? How will the real world feel to a young person who has grown used to problems being solved for them and accustomed to praise at every turn? Is it too late for them to develop a hunger to be in charge of their own lives? … [What] will become of a society populated by such “adults”?…

Too many of us do some combination of overdirecting, overprotecting, or over-involving ourselves in our kids’ lives. We treat our kids like rare and precious botanical specimens and provide a deliberate, measured amount of care and feeding while running interference on all that might toughen and weather them. But humans need some degree of weathering in order to survive the larger challenges life will throw our way. Without experiencing the rougher spots of life, our kids become exquisite, like orchids, yet are incapable, sometimes terribly incapable, of thriving in the real world on their own. Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own? And why do these problems I’m writing about seem rooted in the middle and upper middle classes?”

Read related posts: Getting the Most Out of College
The College Admissions Mania
What Makes a Great Mentor?
What Makes a Great Teacher?
What Should you Teach Your kids Before They Leave Home?
Education Reform
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses
Education or Indoctrination?
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me
Too Much Homework is Bad for Students

For further reading: How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (2015)

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