Julie Lythcott-Haims A former dean of freshmen at Stanford, and the author of “How to Raise an Adult,” has built a career on encouraging parents to take a more hands-off approach, favoring tough love instead of protecting kids from the big, scary world.
Here are some of the ways she’s outlined for how to get there.
Be authoritative, not authoritarian
There are three widely accepted styles of parenting, according to developmental psychologists: authoritarian, permissive, and authoritative. The first two are no good. Authoritarian parents rule with an iron fist, which can fill kids with self-doubt and hurt their psyches. On the other extreme permissive parents become their child’s friend and fail to establish healthy boundaries. Authoritative parents are the ideal. They show love and affection but still enforce rules and set high expectations for their kids. Kids more often emerge with high self-esteems and strong identities.
Make them do their chores
An 80-year study called the Harvard Grant Study has found the single biggest predictor of a person’s success is whether they did chores as a child. If kids aren’t doing the dishes, it definitely means someone else is doing that for them. And so they’re absolved of not only the work, but of learning that work has to be done and that each one of us must contribute for good of the whole family. Chores inculcate in kids the attitude that life is about teamwork and cooperation, and that a clean, tidy home doesn’t just happen by magic.
Let your kids forget their homework
Part of giving your child extra space is affording them the room to fail. Lythcott-Haims gives the example of a parent who discovers their child left his homework at home. Some parents might have the instinct to rush the assignments to school, lest the child get a bad grade. But she says parents should use the opportunity to teach their kids the importance of responsibility and staying organized. Dad and mom won’t always be there to save the day.
Encourage kids to take risks
Being able to fail more broadly is essentially what it means to take risks. All kids should feel comfortable taking risks by the time they are eighteen. Otherwise, they may never fully appreciate how much they can get out of life by leaving their comfort zone.
“Our kids must be able to do all of these things without resorting to calling a parent on the phone,” she wrote. “If they’re calling us to ask how, they do not have the life skill.”
Help your kids develop a sense of direction
Capable adults know how to navigate their surroundings. If they’re outside their immediate neighborhood, they at least should know how to use road signs and negotiate in traffic to get where they want to go. We drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there, Thus, kids don’t know the route for getting from here to there. Parents of successful kids recognize that a healthy sense of direction can (literally) take you far in life.
Prepare them for a world of assignments and deadlines
It’s assumed that parents will handle their kids’ sport practices, meal times and birthday parties. We remind kids when their homework is due and when to do it — sometimes helping them do it, sometimes doing it for them. Thus, kids don’t know how to prioritize tasks, manage workload, or meet deadlines, without regular reminders. By age eighteen, however, these responsibilities must shift to the child. Knowing how to fit people into your schedule and manage their expectations based on your own plans is a crucial skill of adulthood.
Teach them how to earn and manage money
In addition to managing schedules, adults also have the responsibility of managing their finances. Even if kids don’t have jobs yet, it’s worth parents instilling in kids a sense of fiscal savviness.
It’s the old chestnut of teaching kids the value of a dollar. But it’s also teaching them the value of having a dollar saved up, invested, or spent on essential items — all stemming from having a boss “who doesn’t inherently love them.”