Book Review: How to Raise an Adult

“Humans need some degree of weathering in order to survive the larger challenges life will throw our way. Without experiencing the rougher spots of life, our kids become exquisite, like orchids, yet are incapable, sometimes terribly incapable, of thriving in the real world on their own. Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own?” How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims Page: 7

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims is a book that causes the reader to alternate from laughing and nodding, to the realization that the current state of parenting is leading to some dangerous unintended consequences.  Lythcott-Haims spent a longtime as the Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Admissions giving her a treasure trove of stories about kids who truly were prepared and some thoughts on those who really weren’t ready for the adversity coming their way in life.

There are lots of nuggets in this book for me both as a mom and as an educator.  How am I intentionally showing my own children and my students that I value them as a person apart from what they do?  In Christ, I realize that our identity should be found in who we are in Christ…holy, loved, adopted, free.  It is in being “in Christ” that we are valued…being, not doing.  I asked the students in my marketing class the other day what they thought would happen if they filled out a college application and addressed the “high school activities” portion with “spent my time being a good friend, helping others, and being a contributing part of my family”?  They started laughing and said that “colleges don’t care about that”.  I fear that grades, scores, and awards are the measuring stick our kids are using…and we as adults are the ones that are holding it.  How did we get here?  And how can we fix it?

Most of us experienced the effects of the real estate collapse 10 years ago.  Things in the real estate lending industry had gotten out of hand and a major reset had to occur.  I’m praying the same thing happens for this generation of teenagers.  I’d love to see us get the crazy under control…so that teenagers can truly enjoy what should be the best days of their lives.  As a parent, I have to guard my heart and the heart of my children and students by remembering to keep the main thing the main thing.  And that doesn’t happen by chance, I am really having to think through my words and even my words of encouragement to know that my own kids and my students know that I value them for who they are…their character…and not what they do.  I enjoy cheering them on and watching them have fun with their pursuits in academics, arts, athletics, service, etc….but if all those things do is keep them busy, we have all missed the point.

I highlighted several things while reading and have posted those notes below…

  • Humans need some degree of weathering in order to survive the larger challenges life will throw our way. Without experiencing the rougher spots of life, our kids become exquisite, like orchids, yet are incapable, sometimes terribly incapable, of thriving in the real world on their own. Why did parenting change from preparing our kids for life to protecting them from life, which means they’re not prepared to live life on their own? Page: 7
  • Parental vigilance and technology buffer the world for our children, but we won’t always be there to be on the lookout for them. Raising a kid to independent adulthood is our biological imperative and an awareness of the self in one’s surroundings is an important life skill for a kid to develop. When we’re tempted to let our presence be what protects them, we need to ask, To what end? How do we prevent and protect while teaching kids the skills they need? How do we teach them to do it on their own? Page: 14
  • Taking the long view, we need to teach our kids street smarts, like the importance of walking with a friend instead of alone, and how to discern bad strangers from the overwhelming majority of good ones. If we prevent our children from learning how to navigate the world beyond our front yard, it will only come back to haunt them later on when they feel frightened, bewildered, lost, or confused out on the streets. Page: 16
  • Our definition of neglect has stretched to prevent parents from determining when their children are ready for even a modest amount of autonomy, and sacrifices developmentally appropriate skill building to fears of the unknown. Page: 20
  • We’re talking about big fears and the overreaching control that follows, but what we’ve really got to ask ourselves is How much freedom does a developing human need? Page: 21
  • “When you intervene on behalf of your child, your child becomes the victim. You’re expressing the message ‘You’re incapable, you’re not sturdy enough to resolve this yourself, you need me to come in and take care of this for you.’” You are, in essence, disempowering your child. Page: 24
  • Boredom never happens. It isn’t on the schedule. Page: 31
  • But if we’ve taught our kids that there is one predetermined checklist for their lives, we may be constructing a path that is more about us than them. And a path that isn’t about them may be a path to nowhere. We have dreams for them, but musn’t shape the way they dream. Page: 42
  • “We walk a tightrope,” said Dr. Walden. “I believe we should be transparent—that a teacher’s assessment should be fair, valid, credible, and to a certain degree we should deprivatize our practice. On the other side of the coin, teachers need academic freedom and flexibility—if we want them to differentiate to meet kids’ needs, kids’ strengths, and so on, not everything needs to be under a microscope.” Page: 62
  • Until rather recently an American childhood was filled with a wonderful set of freedoms. Kids not only survived, but grew up and thrived, and led our nation to become the greatest economic power the world has known. School mattered a great deal, and kids worked hard, even very, very hard, but school wasn’t the only thing. Kids were free to roam their world and explore what became of interest to them. Sport was for sport. Play was play. These pursuits all contributed to kids’ cognitive, psychological, and social development, and most of it happened out of the earshot of adults. Page: 72
  • “There are two things children should get from their parents: roots and wings,” said German writer, poet, and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It’s time to start examining what it means to give our kid wings. Page: 73
  • In a 2007 study published in the Journal of Family Psychology,3 researchers asked eighteen- to twenty-five-year-olds which criteria they felt were most indicative of adulthood. Their criteria were, in order of importance: (1) accepting responsibility for the consequences of your actions; (2) establishing a relationship with parents as an equal adult; (3) being financially independent from parents; and (4) deciding on beliefs/values independently of parents/other influences. Page: 78
  • We need to know they know how. Page: 80
  1. An eighteen-year-old must be able to talk to strangers
  2. An eighteen-year-old must be able to find his way around
  3. An eighteen-year-old must be able to manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines.
  4. An eighteen-year-old must be able to contribute to the running of a household.
  5. An eighteen-year-old must be able to handle interpersonal problems.
  6. An eighteen-year-old must be able to cope with ups and downs
  7. An eighteen-year-old must be able to earn and manage money.
  8. An eighteen-year-old must be able to take risks. Page: 82
  • One of the key life skills our children must develop, after all, is the ability to live without us. Page: 86
  • A study published in 2006 by UCLA clinical child psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry and education, James Wood, found that parents who tend to take over tasks that children either are or could be performing independently limit the child’s ability to experience “mastery,” leading to greater rates of separation anxiety in their children.4 Page: 89
  • The research shows that figuring out for themselves is a critical element to a person’s mental health. Your kids have to be there for themselves. That’s a harder truth to swallow when your kid is in the midst of a problem or worse, a crisis, but taking the long view, it’s the best medicine for them. Page: 92
  • If our kids are becoming chemically manufactured versions of their otherwise imperfect but quintessentially human selves, if they feel the need to do that in order to succeed in the world, when and where will this drug use end? Page: 108
  • Our job is to raise them so that even in the rough places, they have a chance to thrive. Page: 118
  • Parental love is piercing, fierce, and beautiful. It is hard to comprehend that we’ll be able to cope with our kids leaving home, let alone that at times we won’t even know where they are. Yet we gave them life. And life is to be lived. Page: 143
  • Believe it or not your kid will be eighteen one day, and although you adore them and love doing for them, you don’t want to keep them dependent upon you until they turn eighteen and then dump them out into the real world cold-turkey and wave good-bye; we’re supposed to raise them—to parent them—in a manner that inculcates in them a sense of how to be adult in the world, in age-appropriate ways, beginning in early childhood. Page: 145
  • We’ve been given the awesome, humbling task of helping a young human unfold. What they need most of all is our love and support as they go about the hard and joyful work of learning the skills and mind-sets needed to be a thriving, successful, adult. The “sweet spot” of authoritative parenting—halfway between permissive and authoritarian, and not in any way neglectful—will help us raise our children to truly succeed in life, where we can be proud not only of them, but of ourselves. Page: 149
  • Allowing freedom within limits to try and fail and get better is the only way children (or anyone) will ever learn how to do things for themselves. Perfectionism is not only the enemy of the good; it is the enemy of adulthood. Page: 174
  • If students are in their late teens or early twenties when they first face their own very normal human trait of imperfection, they’ll lack the “brush it off, get back on the horse, try again, persevere through it” mentality they could—should—have cultivated in childhood. Page: 228
  • Resilience is built from real hardship and cannot be bought or manufactured. Page: 231
  • my definition of resilience is simply this: It’s the ability to say to ourselves, “I’m okay. I can choose to figure this out, or figure out another way, or decide it’s not what I want after all. I’m still me. I’m still loved. Life goes on.” Page: 233
  • MISTAKES AND CURVEBALLS YOU MUST LET YOUR KID EXPERIENCE
    • Not being invited to a birthday party
    • Experiencing the death of a pet
    • Breaking a valuable vase
    • Working hard on a paper and still getting a poor grade
    • Having a car break down away from home
    • Seeing the tree he planted die
    • Being told that a class or camp is full
    • Getting detention
    • Missing a show because she was helping Grandma
    • Having a fender bender
    • Being blamed for something he didn’t do
    • Having an event canceled because someone else misbehaved
    • Being fired from a job
    • Not making the varsity team
    • Coming in last at something
    • Being hit by another kid
    • Rejecting something he had been taught
    • Deeply regretting saying something she can’t take back
    • Not being invited when friends are going out
    • Being picked last for neighborhood kickball
    • Not only must you let your kids experience these things, you must appreciate their importance. Page: 239
  • Despite what’s wrong with the college admissions system and the many, many other social and cultural factors that are beyond our control as parents, we’ve got children who need dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow morning, and a society and world that are depending on us to raise our children well. Join me in doing right by those children by leaving the herd of hoverers, by fostering independence, not dependence, and by supporting them in being who they are rather than telling them who and what to be. Together we can push the parenting pendulum back in the other direction: toward raising adults. Page: 306

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