Julie Lythcott-Haims doesn’t consider herself an expert on parenting, but she did write a book and give a TED talk about it.
Lythcott-Haims, a former dean of freshman at Stanford University, is the author of “How to Raise an Adult,” and gave the 2015 TED talk “How to raise successful kids — without over-parenting.”
In both, she argues that today’s parents care too much about their kids’ short-term happiness, rather than their long-term maturity.
Her remedies: She says parents should be authoritative but not authoritarian. She’s a vocal champion for chores. And she urges parents not to rob their kids of the chance to fail.
You can watch Lythcott-Haims’ full talk here, but here are the main points.
Lythcott-Haims worked as the freshman dean at Stanford from 1985 to 2012. During that time, countless kids came to her facing self-doubt and depression.
Day after day, she saw kids who were exceptionally bright yet fantastically brittle. They were also noticeably burnt-out.
“They’re a little old before their time,” she says in the TED talk, “wishing the grown-ups in their lives had said, ‘What you’ve done is enough, this effort you’ve put forth in childhood is enough.’”
As a group, parents have moved from one extreme to another, she says: Where they were once too removed from their kids’ lives, they’re now too present, too involved.
Over time, that breeds dependency. Kids never learn the crucial skill of “grit,” a trait the psychologist Angela Duckworth has found predicts long-term success above nearly all else.
That’s where the brittleness comes from, Lythcott-Haims suggests. Helicopter parents rob kids of their ability to fend for themselves, which leads them to become helpless adults.
She doesn’t just mean basic skills like cooking and doing laundry — many of the kids at Stanford lacked the tools to cope with their negative emotions, she says.
To build tougher, more resilient kids, sometimes parents have to let their children make mistakes and learn for themselves. It builds what Lythcott-Haims calls “self-efficacy,” or the ability to autocorrect.
Psychologists call this style of parenting the “authoritative” approach. It involves parents being disciplinarians when needed but also comforting children when they need love. It doesn’t mean being their friend or a tyrant.
Given the extreme pressure many kids put on themselves, it also doesn’t mean equating success just with good grades.
“Our kids need us to be a little less obsessed with grades and scores and a whole lot more interested in childhood providing a foundation for their success built on things like love and chores,” she explains.
Those chores matter: Lythcott-Haims points to the 75-year-long Harvard Grant Study, in which the greatest predictor of lifelong success was whether people did chores when they were young.
She wraps her talk up on a personal note by mentioning her two kids, Sawyer and Avery. In the beginning, she says, she treated her kids like precious bonsai trees — constantly pruning to perfection.
“But I’ve come to realize, after working with thousands of other people’s kids and raising two kids of my own, my kids aren’t bonsai trees,” she says. They’re rogue wildflowers.
“And it’s my job to provide a nourishing environment, to strengthen them through chores, and to love them so they can love others and receive love,” she says. “The college, the major, the career — that’s up to them.”