I often hear parents say, I want my child to succeed and I want to be involved, but I don’t want to be too involved…I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. The tension here is indicative of what some now call the overparenting trap. The wish and the concern are understandable. The wish is to see our children realize economic upward mobility and self-actualization rooted in health and happiness, while the concern is born from economic uncertainties exacerbated by the stress of navigating the opaque college admission process.
One means to escaping that trap is recognizing high school as a process. And an exceptional school offers a learning community that helps families navigate that process through healthy partnership. The process is one of individuation. Thus, teenagers greatly benefit from parental and school co-management of complex tasks as they learn to navigate the world for themselves.
I’ve just started reading How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, a book which will likely make York’s Community Reading list for the 2016-2017 school year. In the book, Julie Lythcott-Haims, Stanford’s former dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising, joins the growing body of literature that recognizes we may have overcorrected from a hands-off parening approach in decades past to an over-involved hands-on approach, which seeks to ensure acceptance to college but potentially hinders teens preparation for success in college and life.
In a post from Business Insider, which is excerpted from her book, Lythcott-Haims answers the question “What are the skills every 18 year old needs?” Following these skills, she suggests how each is hampered (“the crutch”); I have added how York and York families can foster these essential skills (“the York way”).
1. An 18-year-old must be able to talk to strangers
Faculty, deans, advisers, landlords, store clerks, human resource managers, coworkers, bank tellers, health care providers, bus drivers, mechanics — in the real world.
The crutch: We teach kids not to talk to strangers instead of teaching the more nuanced skill of how to discern the few bad strangers from the mostly good ones. Thus, kids end up not knowing how to approach strangers — respectfully and with eye contact — for the help, guidance, and direction they will need out in the world.
The York way: Encourage students to leverage free periods, study periods, and tutorial to speak with teachers and staff and to develop one voice.
2. An 18-year-old must be able to find his way around
A campus, the town in which her summer internship is located, or the city where he is working or studying abroad.
The crutch: 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, how to cope with transportation options and snafus, when and how to fill the car with gas, or how to make and execute transportation plans.
The York way: Engage in a summer program such as a CIEE study abroad trip or the local iLead+Design, which support navigating communities.
3. An 18-year-old must be able to manage his assignments, workload, and deadlines
The crutch: 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.
The York way: Help students develop executive function skills through assistive technology (Haiku, google calendars), visual guides (planners, wall calendars). Be hands-on and co-manage hw (dialogue) but stay hands-free (don’t do it for them).
4. An 18-year-old must be able to contribute to the running of a household
The crutch: We don't ask them to help much around the house because the checklisted childhood leaves little time in the day for anything aside from academic and extracurricular work; thus, kids don't know how to look after their own needs, respect the needs of others, or do their fair share for the good of the whole.
The York way: Heed the advice of Dr. Madeline Levine from Stanford’s Challenge Success,
“I think most parents have some conflict around what they want for their children. First and foremost parents want happy, healthy kids. So when they list things like “resilience, empathy, etc.” I think they’re being honest. The problem is that there is also a great deal of fear about how their children will fare out in a rapidly changing, highly competitive world. Hence the misplaced emphasis on things like the “right” school. So if it comes down to a choice between chores (self-reliance) and studying for AP Chemistry (grades), many parents tell their kids to forgo their chores and study. Mistake. Because the message is that grades are more important than things like self-reliance, self-management, being part of a community, collaboration, etc. All these parental decisions may seem trivial at the moment, but they add up to an attitude about what matters most.
5. An 18-year-old must be able to handle interpersonal problems
The crutch: We step in to solve misunderstandings and soothe hurt feelings for them; thus, kids don't know how to cope with and resolve conflicts without our intervention.
The York way: Teach coping skills and facilitate opportunities to self-resolve conflict
6. An 18-year-old must be able to cope with ups and downs
Courses and workloads, college- level work, competition, tough teachers, bosses, and others.
The crutch: We step in when things get hard, finish the task, extend the deadline, and talk to the adults; thus, kids don't know that in the normal course of life things won't always go their way, and that they'll be okay regardless.
The York way: Acknowledge and help students recognize that learning is sinusoidal. It fluctuates, especially when appropriately challenging. Encourage a process of evolving self-management.
7. An 18-year-old must be able to earn and manage money
The crutch: They don't hold part-time jobs; they receive money from us for whatever they want or need; thus, kids don't develop a sense of responsibility for completing job tasks, accountability to a boss who doesn't inherently love them, or an appreciation for the cost of things and how to manage money.
The York way: Facilitate a balanced life, so there is time for those who want to work. Just last week I had lunch with a parent of a York alumnus and an alumna from an area boarding program. She her effusive remarks spoke to the benefits of York’s program -- how it afforded her son the time to work part-time (at a burger joint) -- and how much he gained from that experience.
8. An 18-year-old must be able to take risks
The crutch: We've laid out their entire path for them and have avoided all pitfalls or prevented all stumbles for them; thus, kids don't develop the wise understanding that success comes only after trying and failing and trying again (a.k.a. "grit") or the thick skin (a.k.a. "resilience") that comes from coping when things have gone wrong.
The York way: Design an intentional learning community. Encourage healthy risk-taking. Build a functional safety net. Foster a growth mindset.
All of this reminds me of the “basement test,” a marker of post-college success a former York Trustee was fond of speaking to: if your child completes college and does not need to return home to live in the basement, then we’ve succeeded.
It’s a process and a partnership. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
You can read an excerpt from How to Raise an Adult here.
And here is a review of How to Raise an Adult from the "Sunday Book Review."