“You know; I didn’t set out to be a parenting expert. In fact, I’m not very interested in parenting, per se. It’s just that there’s a certain style of parenting these days that is kind of messing up kids, impeding their chances to develop into themselves.” – Julie Lythcott-Haims
Julia Lythcott-Haims is the former Dean of Freshman at Stanford University, and may be one of the most important figures in bringing forth – and potentially solving – a prolific trait of parents that may threaten the very psychological and emotional well-being of their children.
While at Stanford, Lythcott-Haims was taken aback by the continuously-improving academic talent of incoming freshman classes: “Every batch of freshman is more accomplished than the last. Somehow their median GPA is a little higher, their SAT score is a little higher, they’ve done more AP’s than ever…who are these people?”
But, Lythcott-Haims saw a problem. A serious problem.
Academic Success at A Cost…
One particularly damaging critique of various education systems around the world is that far too much emphasis is placed on two things: (1) rote memorization and regurgitation of material and (2) basing grades exclusively off of (1). In other words, it’s all about memorization, memorization, memorization…and grades, grades, grades.
Many critics, perhaps rightfully so, state that this antiquated academic model restricts children, both in terms of potential and personal development.
Lythcott-Haims agrees with that sentiment…and a whole lot more:
“…it’s not just the grades, the scores, and not just the grades and scores, but the accolades and the awards and the sports, the activities, the leadership. We tell our kids, don’t just join a club, start a club, because colleges want to see that.”
Why do parents do this? Well, the former Stanford Dean explains that as well:
“…all of this is done to some hoped-for degree of perfection. We expect our kids to perform at a level of perfection that we were never asked to perform ourselves…and act like our kid’s concierge and personal handler and secretary.”
Ouch. Odds are she speared some parents in the heart with that critique. Not to mention many in academia.
Stanford Dean Reveals The Single Parenting Trait That Ruins Children
Overparenting: A ‘Checklisted’ Childhood
Lythcott-Haims refers to the abovementioned parenting behaviors as “helicopter parenting;” engineering a plan for the child and navigating every step of the way – always sort of “hovering” around. By engaging in “helicopter parenting,” Lythcott-Haims argues, many parents are subjecting their children to a type of ‘checklist’ to help ensure their success in both academics and life in general.
There are huge costs to this method of parenting, however.
First, the child may not properly develop their critical-thinking and/or executive function skills. In essence, the “end product” is a child that may lack the necessary cognitive tools to successfully direct their life once out on their own. Lythcott-Haims attributes this unfortunate stunting of personal growth directly to helicopter parenting.
As Dean of freshmen at Stanford, Lythcott-Haims states that she frequently interacted with parents who wanted to discuss any imaginable variable potentially impacting their child’s grades. Roommates. Professors. Curriculum. Mind you, all of this excessive overbearing and overprotection by parents was occurring at one of the top universities in the world.
Second, the child is more vulnerable to mental and emotional disorders. Lythcott-Haims states, and research seems to confirm, that all of this undue pressure is resulting in more cases of depression and anxiety among college students. In a study published by the American Psychological Association (APA), nearly 40 percent of students who visited a University counseling center reported having feelings of depression; around 46 percent reported problems with anxiety.
Third, the child loses a sense of individuality and novelty. “First of all, there’s no time for free play. There’s no room in the afternoons, because everything has to be enriching…It’s as if every piece of homework, every quiz, every activity is a make-or-break moment for this future we have in mind for them…as long as they’re checking off the items on their checklist.”
In short, a child’s sense of self is potentially lost as parents continue to push them along a path that they may not want to follow.
One thing that the former Dean makes clear is that she does not promote complete abdication of parental guidance concerning academics or life skills. At her TED talk, Lythcott-Haims tells the audience:
“Now, am I saying every kid is hard-working and motivated and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives, and we should just back off and let go? Hell no…What I’m saying is, when we treat grades and scores and accolades and awards as the purpose of childhood…that’s too narrow a definition of success for our kids…all of this comes at a long-term cost to their sense of self.”
So, what does she recommend exactly? Love and chores. Really.
Lythcott-Haims cites a well-respected study; the longest concerning human development ever conducted. Titled the Harvard Grant Study, researchers involved in the project determined that true success – including professional achievement –directly correlated with the level of household responsibilities that a child had.
But, more importantly, the study concludes that happiness in life comes from love; not of work, but of fellow human beings; our friends, family, and others.
In summation, the former Dean recommends a healthy balance of discipline and love – not to mention, plenty of playtime. She asserts that such a parent approach will yield a healthy, successful, well-adjusted, and happy person.