Imagine spending all of this time and energy raising your kids, and then when you send them off to post- secondary education, you still have to call to wake them up every morning to make sure they get to class on time. Sounds shocking, right? When I was in college 20 years ago, I can recall going multiple days, maybe even up to a couple of weeks, without communicating with my parents. Sure, this was before cell phones, text messaging, and social media, but it wasn’t necessary to talk to my parents that often. My parents gave me plenty of freedom to live my own life and to explore and grow during those incredible years as I blossomed into an independent adult. Somehow, I figured out how to register for classes, study, eat, do laundry, meet new friends, get over breakups, and handle bad grades all on my own.
Nowadays, it is common for high school graduates to enter post-secondary as children, incapable of taking care of themselves. According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult, over-parenting and prolonged childhood are an epidemic. As the Dean of Freshman at Stanford University for 10 years, (one of the best universities in the world), Julie Lythcott-Haims witnessed firsthand some disturbing student trends. Although they were more successful on paper than ever before with pages of accolades, like awards, high test scores, leadership roles, varsity letters, overseas experiences, unique community service projects, etc., these students were also less familiar with who they were and with their own goals and dreams. Many of them appeared to be robot-like, blindly following the directions of their parents to participate in certain activities and take classes that would land them acceptance letters from the finest institutions.
Lythcott-Haims also noticed these kids couldn’t do much for themselves, and still relied on their parents to help them. They were constantly on the phone with their parents asking for advice and requesting that they take care of basic tasks, like registering them for classes, sending them special packages, advising them on homework, and even contacting their professors if they did not receive the perfect grade. How on earth will these young adults hold a job and function in the real world if they can’t take care of themselves during these critical years? Lythcott-Haims makes it very clear: We have no one to blame but ourselves. The patterns that lead to this detrimental behavior start right now, even if your kids are in Kindergarten.
Are you one of these types of parents?
Overprotective. You view the world as unsafe, scary, and unpredictable so you do everything possible to protect your children instead of preparing them to learn how to handle life’s challenges themselves.
Tiger parent. You provide fierce direction to your kids, telling them that you know what’s best for them to achieve success in this world.
Excessive hand holder. You do everything for your kids to make life as pleasant as possible for them. You are their concierge, chauffeur, handler, scheduler, and secretary.
These helicopter-parenting styles are impeding our children. Today, so many parents feel like their kids can’t be successful without them helping their kids at every turn and hovering over them. They spend so much time planning, protecting, directing, and nagging that they are ultimately stunting their children’s growth. We are taking away the ability for our children to learn self- efficacy, says Lythcott-Haims. This incredibly important skill is a fundamental aspect of the human psyche. It is when individuals realize that their own actions lead to outcomes, that they have the power to direct their own lives. “If our children are to build self-efficacy, then they need to do more of the thinking, planning, deciding, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming, and experiencing life for themselves. We may ensure some short-term goals by over-helping, but it comes as a long-term cost to their sense of self. We should be more concerned that they have the habits, skillset, mindset, and wellness to be successful no matter what their future holds,” she announces. This is worrisome because we all want our children to be able to function without us, to fulfill their dreams and live happy, healthy, successful lives. Listening to her presentation really opened my eyes.
How can we stop doing everything for our kids? Here are some steps to get started on this whole new parenting perspective.
Stop making everything about you - Many parents try to live through their children because they are unsatisfied with their own childhood. They may even refer to their child’s grades and activities as ‘ours.’ Learn to separate what’s yours from what’s theirs. We also have to stop trying to mould our kids into something they are not. We will all be much better off if we love our children for who they are and support them.
Teach them new skills - The only way our children will learn to do things for themselves is if we provide opportunities for them to learn new skills. This starts during preschool when we ask our children to dress themselves and use a fork properly. With each new year, there are so many chances to help develop their skillset. The best way to teach our kids a new skill is to do it for them, do it with them, watch them do it on their own, and then let them do it on their own. (Wouldn’t you rather gradually teach your kids and not have to cram everything in on the way to dorm move-in day?)
Let them fend for themselves and learn from their mistakes - It is so important that our children learn how to speak up for themselves and communicate with authority figures and peers alike. We have to stop trying to clean up all of their messes for them and protect them from failure. The only way they will grow is if they make mistakes and learn how to handle their mistakes.
Give your kids experiences - Even if it is completely out of your comfort zone, try to let your kids experience activities without you that will help them build self- confidence and independence; sleepovers, all-day sports or other competitions, camping trips, and sleepaway camp are some good examples.
Last summer, my son went off to sleepaway camp for four weeks, and it was very difficult for me. I cried for days worrying about him. But you know what? When I saw him on visiting day, I was blown away by how happy he was and how mature he acted. I was petrified that he would pick up bad habits and become a rotten kid, but the opposite happened, he became an even more amazing version of himself. By adjusting some of our parenting techniques now, we can better prepare our kids for a successful life ahead of them.
Sandi is a freelance writer/blogger and mother of two. She has written extensively about parenting, wellness, and environmental issues. Find her at happysciencemom.com and sandischwartz.com. Get her free course on raising happy, balanced kids at bit.ly/2i53TDV.
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