Information for the parents of college students
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Book Review: How to Raise an Adult

From time to time, we like to review some of the books available for parents of college students.  There is a wealth of literature available to help parents cope with the transition to college and the changes that occur throughout the college years.  We’ve created lists of recommended reading, and there is something for everyone.  See our Resources and Tools page for suggestions.

Julie Lythcott-Haims’ new book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success is required reading for college parents, but by then it is almost too late.  This book should be on the required list for parents of elementary, middle school and high school parents as well.  The sooner that parents begin to think about the issues that Lythcott-Haims raises, the easier it will be to break bad habits, and the fewer problems parents and their kids will face.

Julie Lythcott Haims presents her compelling questions early in the book: “How does a parent travel from that place of wanting to utterly protect an infant to the place of letting them go out into the waiting world?”  This is the question we all face as parents – and the reason parents of young children should read this book early.  The author goes on to question, “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?” This book helps parents explore the answers to these questions.

Lythcott-Haims recounts her concerns as a freshman college dean as she saw the trend of more and more students who were incapable of making decisions and solving problems on their own.  These students were dependent on their parents, who were instantly available either virtually or in person. She wondered what would happen if these students became adults who continued to need their parents to tell them what to do next.  How to Raise an Adult is peppered with real-life examples and anecdotes that illustrate the issues – everything from parents calling the college and impersonating their student to a mother who accompanies her child on a job interview.

A parent herself, Lythcott-Haims includes herself in the number of parents who have fallen into the trap of parenting too closely and thus hindering our kids’ ability to grow in some of the ways necessary to succeed.  Early in the book, the author clearly explains why we have become such hovering parents, and these explanations lay the groundwork for the descriptions, problems and solutions explored in the rest of the book.

We like the approachable organization of the book: Part 1 – What we’re doing now, Part 2 – Why we must stop overparenting, Part 3 – Another way, and Part 4 – Daring to parent differently.  As parents, most of us will recognize ourselves in Part 1.  Lythcott-Haims then makes compelling arguments for why we need to break our current habits.  Unlike so many other college parenting books, however, How to Raise an Adult contains practical suggestions for an alternative way of parenting and then encourages us that it is possible to function differently.

Parents, please read How to Raise an Adult whether you have college students or toddlers.  Share the book, and your thoughts, with your friends. As Julie Lythcott-Haims states, “There are parents everywhere who, like you and me, feel it’s time to say enough is enough.  Right now we may be in the minority.  But we need to stop going along with a manner of raising kids that we know is wrong; we need to summon the courage to do things differently.  Banding together will help us find the courage to do what our gut tells us is right, and be the parents we want to be.

About the author:

Julie Lythcott-Haims served as Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising for more than a decade at Stanford University.  She is the mother of two teenagers, and she has spoken and written on the phenomenon of helicopter parenting.  She has appeared on TEDxTalks and has written articles for Forbes and the Chicago Tribune. Julie holds a BA from Stanford University and a JD from Harvard Law School.  She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing. She lives in Palo Alto, California.

What the author has to say about the book:

“This is a book about parents who are overinvolved in the lives of their kids.  It looks at the love and fear behind our overinvolvement.  It looks at the harm we cause when we do too much.  And it looks at how we might achieve better long-term ends – and help our kids achieve even greater success – by parenting differently.”

“I’ve come to the conclusion that we define success too narrowly.  And what’s worse, this narrow, misguided definition of success has led us to harm a generation of young adults – our children. . . Whereas once upon a time I was a dean at a highly selective university tut-tutting the behaviors of overinvolved parents, in the years I’ve spent thinking about this topic I’ve slowly come to appreciate that I’m not much different from the parents I once rather breezily chastised.  In many ways, I am the problem parent I’m writing about.”

“I understand that the systemic problem of overparenting is rooted in our worries about the world and about how our children will be successful in it without us.  Still, we’re doing harm.  For our kids’ sakes, and also for our own, we need to stop parenting from fear and bring a more healthy – a more wisely loving – approach back into our communities, schools, and homes.  Through research woven together with real-life observations and commonsense advice, this book will show us how to raise our kids to become adults – and how to gather the courage to do so.”

What others have to say about the book:

“Julie Lythcott-Haims is a national treasure . . . Witty, wise, and dead-on, Lythcott-Haims is a tonic for what ails this generation of kids and parents.  A must-read.”

                        Madeline Levine

                        Author, The Price of Privilege and Teach Your Children Well

“Timely and bracing  . . A smart, compassionate alternative approach . . . For parents who want to foster hearty self-reliance instead of hollow self-esteem, How to Raise an Adult is the right book at the right time.”

                         Daniel H. Pink

                        Author, Drive and A Whole New Mind

“I’ve loved this book from the moment I saw the title.  Julie Lythcott-Haims understands that the goal of parenting should be to raise autonomous adults, not have name-brand college admissions to brag about.  Her double perspective – as a mother of teenagers and a former longtime freshman dean at Stanford – makes her uniquely equipped to show parents how to do exactly that.  Wise, honest, compassionate, and deeply informed, How to Raise an Adult ought to be at the top of everybody’s stack of parenting books.”

                          William Deresiewicz

                          Author, Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life

“Lythcott-Haims wrote this intriguing read with empathy and insight, offering multiple strategies for bringing up healthier children who can thrive as adults.”

                         Stanford Magazine

“This vigorous text will give parents the backup needed to make essential changes.”

                        Publishers Weekly

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