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October 6, 2015

Working with some of the nation’s brightest young adults at Stanford University, and being a parent of two teenagers herself, Julie Lythcott-Haims has the unique experience of being able to see parenting from a variety of angles and give parents of teens helpful advice. During her 10 years as Stanford’s Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising, she began to notice a disturbing trend which she chronicles in her new book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.”

The book is rapidly becoming the central talking point of an interesting discussion: What is the overparenting trap, and how do you avoid falling into it? Pacific Quest is often asked questions related to parenting, and has chosen this book as the first in our book club series to help parents of teens get access to sound advice, and assist teens and young adults in becoming productive members of society.

What is the Overparenting Trap?

Lythcott-Haims isn’t the first to identify this trend. The rise in recent discussions surrounding “helicopter parenting”—a term coined in 1990 by child development researchers Foster Cline and Jim Fay parallels?—seems to be the a common, modern-day style of parenting. Too often, parents today are more interested in their child’s potential success and not as interested in their child’s overall happiness and general well-being. Parents want their kids to get into the best schools, be the best players on their sporting team and duke it out for the top spots in sports, academics, and competitions. “This is not a strategy for long-term well-being. It is always better to empower children to make good choices for themselves rather than having them remain dependent on parents to sort out problems for them,” says psychologist Michael Ungar, who heads the Resilience Research Centre at Dalhousie University on PsychologyToday.com, “The point of parenting should be to grow a child who is capable of taking on adult tasks.”

The Consequences of Overparenting

The problem with overparenting? More often than not, a child will grow chronologically older, but continue to struggle with tasks an adult should be able to master and overcome, experiencing stunted cognitive and emotional growth. “If the kids subjected to this type of parenting weren’t suffering greater rates of anxiety and depression than the general population, then maybe we could wave this off as not-a-real problem. But they are suffering; there’s no way around that fact,” says Lythcott-Haims.

How You Can Avoid Falling in the Trap

Three things Lythcott-Haims says parents can do right away (as shared in her Q&A Session with NPR):

  1. Stop saying “we” when you mean your kid. “We” aren’t on the travel soccer team, “we” aren’t doing the science project and “we” aren’t applying to college. Our kid is. These are their efforts and achievements. We need to go get our own hobbies to brag about.
  1. Stop arguing with all of the adults in our kids’ lives. As Jess well knows, teachers are under siege from overinvolved parents insistent upon engineering the perfect outcomes for their kids. Principals, coaches and referees see the same thing. If there’s an issue that needs to be raised with these folks, we do best for our kids in the long run if we’ve taught them how to raise concerns on their own.
  1. Stop doing their homework. Teachers end up not knowing what their students actually know, it’s highly unethical, and worst of all it teaches kids, “Hey kid, you’re not actually capable of doing any of this on your own.”

It’s no doubt that overparenting stems from parents who love their children. However, it is important to remember that your child will continue growing, into a teen, young adult and so on, and the best thing you can do for them is prepare them to take care of themselves and function in a healthy manner. If your family needs help in this area, know that it’s common and completely OK to speak with professionals.

Pacific Quest is here to answer any questions you may have and give advice to parents of teenagers. Feel free to contact us anytime at 808-937-5806 and stay tuned for our next book club pick!

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