Prior to summer break, teachers and administrators at my school were given a copy of How To Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, written by Julie Lythcott-Haims. I have taken this book to the beach, pool parties, and family gatherings, eagerly sharing what I considered to be outrageous stories about “helicopter parents”. I personally found the book to be a bit on the long side. Nevertheless, the overall message of the book is important as parents balance being supportive, and develop habits in children so they are equipped with the necessary life skills for a successful life.
My personal takeaway from this book is that kids are not given the opportunities to figure things out, struggle, fail and keep working at something without immediate parent intervention. Here are some of the points discussed in the book:
- Not enough unstructured play. Let kids figure it out on the playground!
- Parents getting upset with teachers and school administrators when their children have broken a rule and are getting reprimanded.
- Parents helping write/edit their child’s essays and research papers in high school and college.
- Parents trying to manage and control every aspect of their child’s life: play dates, music lessons, sports, school, which courses to take, which college to attend, and what to study in college.
Colonel Leon Robert, professor and head of the Department of Chemistry and Life Science at West Point said, “The great majority are great men and women doing the right thing. But there are a creeping number who have parents that overmanage them, such as by driving them to their first assignment….That’s totally inappropriate. You don’t need your mother to show up at the front gate of Fort Bragg with you, or help you find an apartment. You’re twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three years old. You need to deal with the landlord yourself. That’s part of learning to act as an adult. Our graduates are mature leaders of character well prepared to lead America’s sons and daughters and with all the right tools to be successful at the tasks the army will require of them. However, there are a small percentage of parents that will not, or cannot, “let go” and continue to hover over their adult children” (p. 47).
In discussing this book with friends and family members, one of the sentiments shared is that parents feel overstretched with their children’s activities and homework assignments. So because time is of essence, it becomes easier to pack their lunches for them rather than having their children make their own lunch. I reminded my family and friends that we too had schoolwork, and we still helped out with household chores (and no we were not paid for them). We cleaned bathrooms, kitchens, prepared meals, dusted, mopped, washed our own laundry and did other errands that were asked of us. We also had a full school load taking AP and Honors courses. We were expected to do well, be kind and respectful humans, and our parents were not hovering over us. They trusted us to get it done and we knew we were capable of doing so. I have to add that we did not have pressure from our parents to attend the “right” or “top” college.
Our parents also didn’t have the time nor the resources to micromanage our whereabouts. However, we are in better financial situations than our parents and I wonder if we too will lose sight of the old-fashioned values that made us the hard-working individuals we are today. In discussing this book with my high school educator friends who work in urban communities, they cannot believe parents meddle in their high school or college age kids to that degree. Overparenting seems to be an issue in mostly middle class and affluent communities. Interestingly, my elementary school teachers in urban communities say they have noticed an increase in the last few years where parents are beginning to become “helicopter parents” and students are having a sense of entitlement when it comes to schoolwork. My big question is, regardless of socio-economic level, how will children develop a strong work ethic if their parents get them out of doing it?
I am including a checklist from the book (pp. 167-169) taken from a 2012 article by Lindsey Hutton, associate editor at the Family Education Network. It is a guide of life skills children should acquire based on age and ability.
Ages 2-3: Small Chores and Basic Grooming
This is the age when your child will start to learn basic life skills. By the age of three, your child should be able to:
- Help put his toys away.
- Dress himself (with some help from you).
- Put his clothes in the hamper when he undresses.
- Clear his plate after meals.
- Assist in setting the table.
- Brush his teeth and wash his face with assistance.
Ages 4-5: Important Names and Numbers
When your child reaches this age, safety skills are high on the list. She should know:
- Her full name, address, and phone number.
- How to make an emergency call.
Your child should also learn how to:
- Perform simple cleaning chores such as dusting in easy-to-reach places and clearing the table after meals.
- Feed pets.
- Identify monetary denominations, and understand the very basic concept of how money is used.
- Brush her teeth, comb her hair, and wash her face without assistance.
- Help with basic laundry chores, such as putting her clothes away, and bringing her dirty clothes to the laundry area.
- Choose her own clothes to wear.
Ages 6-7: Basic Cooking Techniques
Kids at this age can start to help with cooking meals, and can learn to:
- Mix, stir, and cut with a dull knife.
- Make a basic meal, such as a sandwich.
- Help put the groceries away.
- Wash the dishes.
Your child should also learn how to:
- Use basic household cleaners safely.
- Straighten up the bathroom after using it.
- Make his bed without assistance.
- Bathe unsupervised.
Ages 8-9: Pride in Personal Belongings
By this time, your child should take pride in her personal belongings and take care of them properly. This includes being able to:
- Fold her clothes.
- Learn simple sewing.
- Care for outdoor toys such as her bike or roller skates.
Your child should also learn how to:
- Take care of personal hygiene without being told to do so.
- Use a broom and dustpan properly.
- Read a recipe and prepare a simple meal.
- Help create a grocery list.
- Count and make change.
- Take written phone messages.
- Help with simple lawn duties such as watering and weeding flower beds.
- Take out the trash.
Young Adults: Preparing to Live on His Own
Your child will need to know how to support himself when he goes away to college or moves out. There are still a few skills he should know before venturing out on his own, including:
- Make regular doctor and dentist appointments and other important health-related appointments.
- Have a basic understanding of finances, and be able to manage his bank account, balance a checkbook, pay a bill, and use a credit card.
- Understand basic contracts, like an apartment or car lease.
- Schedule oil changes and basic car maintenance.
Whatever your parenting style, I recommend How To Raise An Adult to begin perhaps difficult conversations about overparenting. Hopefully you will find some useful tools to better equip your children for a life of success, happiness and overall well-being.