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How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success Paperback – August 2, 2016
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“This is the stuff of the best parenting advice . . . . A worthwhile read for every parent . . . . Our children are engaged in the serious work of becoming an adult. With this book, Lythcott-Haims provides the missing user manual.” ―The Chicago Tribune
“Lythcott-Haims offers anecdotes of parents touring graduate schools, serving as mouthpieces for heir shy, passive children, and submitting résumés to potential employers, sometimes without their children's knowledge. These behaviors do more than mold kids into dependent beings, she argues; they corral and constrict their possibilities and their imaginations. . . . When parents laugh and enjoy the moment but also teach the satisfaction of hard work, when they listen closely but also give their children space to become who they are, they wind up with kids who know how to work hard, solve problems and savor the moment, too. In other words, get a life, and your child just might do the same someday.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“In her easy-to-read prose . . . . the author does a superb job of laying out the facts . . . . Her advice is sound and obviously much needed . . . if parents want to raise productive adults.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Lythcott-Haims presents a convincing vision of overprotected, overparented, overscheduled kids . . . . After presenting the problem in detail (through interviews with college admissions officers, educators, parents, and others), she offers a number of viable solutions . . . . This vigorous text will give parents the backup needed to make essential changes.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Julie Lythcott-Haims is a national treasure. She is a psychologist, sociologist, and anthropologist rolled into one, recording the attitudes and rituals of 21st-century smart kids who can't tie their shoelaces--and of their anxious, hovering parents. Reminding us that we are charged with transforming children into adults capable of meeting the challenges of life head-on, Lythcott-Haims dispenses compassion and a good kick in the pants in equal and appropriate measure. Witty, wise, and dead-on, Lythcott-Haims is a tonic for what ails this generation of kids and parents. A must-read for every parent who senses that there is a healthier and saner way to raise our children. ” ―MADELINE LEVINE, author of the New York Times bestsellers The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well
“Have the good intentions of American parents gone awry? In this timely and bracing work, Julie Lythcott-Haims chronicles the many dangers of overparenting--from thwarting children's growth to hurting their job prospects to damaging parents' own well-being. Then she charts a smart, compassionate alternative approach that treats kids as wildflowers to be nourished rather than bonsai trees to be cultivated. For parents who want to foster hearty self-reliance instead of hollow self-esteem, How to Raise an Adult is the right book at the right time.” ―DANIEL H. PINK, author of the New York Times bestsellers Drive and A Whole New Mind
“I've loved this book from the moment I saw the title. Julie Lythcott-Haims understands that the goal of parenting should be to raise autonomous adults, not have name-brand college admissions to brag about. Her double perspective--as a mother of teenagers and a former longtime freshman dean at Stanford--makes her uniquely equipped to show parents how to do exactly that. Wise, honest, compassionate, and deeply informed, How to Raise an Adult ought to be at the top of everybody's stack of parenting books. ” ―WILLIAM DERESIEWICZ, author of the New York Times bestseller Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life
About the Author
Julie Lythcott-Haims served as dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University, where she received the Dinkelspiel Award for her contributions to the undergraduate experience. She has spoken and written widely on the phenomenon of helicopter parenting, and her work has appeared on TEDx talks and in The New York Times and the Chicago Tribune. Julie holds a BA from Stanford University and a JD from Harvard Law School, and is pursuing an MFA in writing from California College of the Arts. In addition to nonfiction, she writes creative nonfiction, poetry, and plays. She resides in Palo Alto, California, with her husband, their two teenagers, and her mother.
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It is true that the author's world is that of the privileged elite and that her book speaks primarily to parents in this socio-economic class. However, many of the issues she describes are applicable across all social and economic strata if in slightly different ways.
I worked for many years at a nursing school that admitted students who were solidly middle class, not members of any elite. Because our tuition was less expensive than the universities that surrounded us we also had a fair number of students who would generally be classified as poor but ambitious and upwardly mobile.
My experience with the majority of our students was fine. They worked hard and succeeded according to their abilities. However, there was an appreciable number of students [25-40%] who would have fit very well in Ms. Lythcott-Haims book. I remember vividly one student (21 years of age)who came into her interview with her mother. The mother refused to leave the interview and answered every question for her daughter. The daughter simply sat there. Whenever I asked the applicant a question she looked at her mother and said nothing. This situation was not really that uncommon. Parents frequently showed up at interviews. If they didn't come to the interview - many called. Mostly these parents told me how wonderful their child was, how caring and well suited for the nursing profession they were. Every year you had students who filled out their application to the program saying they wanted to be a nurse because their mother told them it was the right profession for them.
All too usual were the students whose parents threatened legal action because their child failed a course, and the ones who brought lawyers to the school because their child failed out of the program. There were students who thought they were entitled to good grades because they did well in high school, and ones who thought everything that happened at the school was about them and their wishes. If they got a bad grade it wasn't because they didn't study, it was because the teacher didn't like them, or the test was unfair, or it was raining outside. Nothing was ever these kids faults. Then you had the ones we all regretted - kids who would have made great nurses, but who gave up because they couldn't accept any grade less than an A and so they just walked away. You also had plenty of kids who had great grades - they could do anything you asked academically, but when you put them in a clinical setting they froze. Some of these students had to be told over and over again what to do in the clinical setting. They never took any initiative; they never had any confidence. They always had to have an instructor holding their hands. Some of these students grew up in clinical; some of them quit school because the stress of having to act in the clinical setting was just too much.
The problems described in How to Raise an Adult are found in all levels of society now and my fear is that the problem is growing. The issues of immaturity that are common in elite schools are becoming ever more common all along the educational ladder.
over time the skills you learn from "going it alone" as a kid and being forced to "figure it all out" will benefit you in adulthood, but one wonders if by the time you get it figured out, everyone else has a degree and a foot in the door ahead of you.
I see that a small number of reviewers are disappointed with the book. I see great value in this work on a number of levels, but I'll tailor my comments to some of the concerns I saw expressed there.
Some reviewers expressed anger at the author's snobbery or hypocrisy, or anger because they felt it offered a pertinent message only to upper class audiences. I have read this and watched the author's TED talks and TEDx talks. It may be that I'm conflating her writing and her speaking, but I didn't watch the TED talks until after I completed the book. I found her to show admirable humility, not hubris, when she talked about her own forays into overprotective parenting. Her care and concern for our youth strikes me as very genuine.
I don't know where my family falls on the national socioeconomic spectrum. I think we're upper middle class. I know we live in a moderately affluent town, in which most students enroll in college after high school graduation (no one's touting data on whether or not they remain and complete a degree). I know parents that do their kids' homework and parents that allow their kids to do it on their own. Our family was already operating counter-culturally. We had to sit down with our eldest child's guidance counselor to explain that we weren't concerned about building his resume for all those "Tier 1 schools" she was pushing for him. She was shocked that we had concerns on our list beyond the prestige of the schools at which he might be accepted.
I think this book offers value for the time and money for the vast majority of parents. Maybe the college admissions racket isn't a big concern for you and your child if you have other paths mapped out. But here's the thing: your child will be living alongside peers for whom the dynamic she describes has been or continues to be very real. Learning about this reality may educate you so that you know to steer your child away from making a lifetime commitment to one of these parent-directed automatons. You child will live among these directionless peers, so getting familiar with what makes them tick, or even familiar enough to recognize the dynamic at play, has great value. If nothing else, it may help you and your child to identify strengths you didn't even know were strengths, because you thought they were basic skills. I assure you, the ability to talk to someone face-to-face and advocate for him- or herself is unique today. Just last night, I listened as a group of employers bemoaned the lack of basic skills in the pool of candidates for their job openings. This dynamic is real. If you and your child have escaped it, rejoice! But forewarned is forearmed, and reading this may offer insight into just how awesome and employable your child is.
I have learned that sometimes we express anger when we are actually feeling defensive. That may not be the case for a single negative reviewer. But if 1,000 people have read the book, I'm sure at least one has reacted this way. This book calls us to step off the competition treadmill. That's a scary-ass thing to do when you're afraid it might mean your kid doesn't "make it." And she does mention that it's not unheard of for us parents to let our own egos get in the way. I think she's actually pretty gentle in her call to common sense, because she acknowledges that none of us "overparent" because we want to screw up our kids. We do it our of care and concern. She pushes us to look at our behavior from another perspective and consider that, in some parenting situations, less is actually more, and more may be too much.
The one thing I think she could have talked more about are some of the other reasons that families might write off the big name schools. The Ivies and many other big names are large schools. We knew our children needed smaller communities. She does mention that piece, as the "fit" of the school for a child. But finances should be a big piece of any family's discussion about higher ed. I know many people labor under the misconception that any price is worth that big-name diploma. I have enough experience to disagree. First of all, let me snarkily say that most graduates of "big-names" (I am "Boston Mom." We have a disproportionate number of them in our area.) grow heads too big to fit through doorways. So an obvious negative. ;-)
But if your loans for that "big-name" diploma preclude your ability to marry, buy a home, and afford have children so that you can go through the whole darn cycle over again with them, (or whatever you life goals are - students loans can kill so many dreams) what the heck was it all for?
To the criticisms that this is applicable to a narrow audience: maybe. But the author wrote about what she knows. As for the frequent references to her professional role as Dean at Stanford, it's common for readers to consume only certain chapters or excerpts of a book. This is valid information, and it has to be offered repeatedly for people that are coming to Chapter ?? cold. Don't you remember how they re-introduced us to Nancy Drew in EVERY SINGLE book - "Titian-haired teenaged amateur sleuth, Hannah Gruen, fabulous dad Carson, athletic friend George," etc., etc. Yes, I found it repetitious. But it served a purpose for some readers, as does the author's numerous introductions of her experience.
As I said before I digressed, the author wrote about what she knows, from her field work. Is it the complete story? Of course not. No one can tell you the complete story. If they could, there wouldn't be the plethora of books on the topic that there are. But I enjoy her writing style, I believe her experience gives her credibility, and the message has value whether it's to impact our own parenting or to give us insight into the reality of life for today's youth. Yes, there's a lot about college admissions (again, this is what she KNOWS), and that can help parents in the midst of the search or at the brink of it. But there may be even greater value for parents of 10-year-olds. They're going to hear, before it's threatening because they're afraid that they've already failed their kids, that there are other ways to go about parenting.