Q&A with Julie Lythcott-Haims

Former Stanford University dean of freshmen talks about the 'overparenting trap'

This is a condensed version of an interview with Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Stanford University dean of freshmen, Palo Alto parent of two and author of new book, "How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success." Lythcott-Haims will be speaking about her new book at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto on Saturday, June 13. For more information, go to

Q: In the book, you talk about the way childhood used to be -- mostly unrestrained and unscheduled compared to the childhood of today. What was your own upbringing like?

I was born in 1967. I grew up in the '70s (and) came to college in 1985 out here (at Stanford University). I was raised in the Midwest and East Coast, moved around a lot. I'm GenX. I'm that generation sandwiched between Baby Boom and Millennial that was called "latchkey." What was happening was moms were going back to work or going to work in the '70s. That was a wonderful thing. Dads weren't exactly coming home (in the afternoon) all of a sudden so (there was) this open question of, 'What do we do with the kids after school or before school?'

Very many of us were accustomed to being kissed goodbye and so on: "Make your own breakfast" or "Here's breakfast, I'm leaving, lock the door behind you." And then (when you) come home from school, you're on your own for three hours, let's say, until 6 p.m. when your parents get back from work. That was standard. It wasn't considered neglect; it wasn't weird; it was just how people handed the situation of two parents working. It was before there was a sense of after-school day care associated with every public school or all these public school activities and so on. (There were) far fewer activities, far less homework and no organized day care to speak of once you were of age to go to school.

In that sense, I think I had a very hands-off, hands-free, free-range kind of childhood, which was just childhood. It was very normal. It was no different than anything else. I think it is my memories of what that felt like as a child that certainly informs my sense of what has changed. I like to say that as dean (of freshman), I saw the results of close to 20,000 childhoods. I had, in my 10 years, just under 20,000 students come through Stanford at that time. As freshman dean, I had the great fun and privilege of getting to know many of them. I remember when we began to be worried that so many parents are all of a sudden seeming to feel that they ought to play a role.

Q: Was there a noticeable shift?

There was. I was at Stanford for 14 years, the last 10 of which were as freshmen dean. The first two were as associate dean for student affairs at the law school and then I worked for President (John) Hennessey for two years. In that first role, in 1998 ... that's when people began noticing that parents are coming and not leaving. Parents used to wave goodbye at the airport or fly with you or drive you up or the sense of, 'Maybe we'll help you unpack your bags, but we go.' It was around 1998 that parents started to feel the need to stay -- not very many, but every year brought more and more who seemed to have this eager worry, this "I need to help; I should help." It was that kind of approach.

In the beginning, we just wanted to reassure (parents). ... As the numbers grew, by the early- to mid-2000s, we found ourselves saying, there are so many parents who are now showing up and not leaving, literally or virtually, who expect to play a role in the life of the university that in prior years, the student had played -- registering for classes, choice making around major or activities, problem solving when something goes wrong, a dispute of some kind or just a misunderstanding, roommates, grades. We gathered as a group -- those of us who were thinking about such things -- and reaffirmed that the university's primary relationship is with the student, but that parents are an important partner in supporting the student in being successful.

We were very much trying to remain respectful of the role a parent plays in the life of a son or daughter but were also chafing against the notion that this person was still a child. I remember when people began using the word -- I don't literally remember when but I noticed that folks started referring to sons and daughters as 'children.' The rudder that I had under me at the time was saying, "But wait a minute, these are the same 'children' that we send into the Army and the Navy and the Marines and the Air Force to fight and die for our country. How is it that we find them so equipped to make that choice and perhaps face that sacrifice if they're still children? Why is it that we might treat folks in the military as their best option at 18 differently in our minds than those who march off to college or university?"

I wrote the book because on top of all of this, I noticed that my students were quite grateful for their moms' or dads' help. And that's a marked change from when my generation was in college. This is sort of the hallmark of millennial. It's wonderful that millennials -- and I say millennials because they're the first generation to be parented this way -- millennials and their parents are closer as sons and daughters and parents than ever before in recorded history. So there's this tremendous bond, which is fabulous and good, and as a parent and as a daughter, obviously I know the bond between parent and child can be an amazing thing and we hope for that, we want that. And yet this tremendous respect and closeness comes with little desire to separate from the parent, which has sort of always happened. Psychologists will tell us: This is a natural stage, a natural part of development -- some kind of separation from the adult in order to form the self.

So when I saw my students essentially grateful that mom and dad were there to help them out of a bind, to figure something out, to make a choice, to provide approval -- I thought, "Back in my day ... we would have (said), 'Get away, I know better, don't get in the way' or 'I want to do this.'" And that wasn't happening. There was this tremendous cloak of politeness and happiness and "It's all good" and "We're close" and "We're best friends," which all seemed beautiful. And yet in my students, I saw what was missing. I saw the absence of this sense of hunger, (of) "I'm an adult now and as hard as it might be to tackle this or deal with this or confront this, I kind of want to do it. I want to prove to myself that I can." I didn't see that. Over the years, that seemed to be diminishing in this population of people who heretofore could be characterized by that hunger for independence. That's what made me write the book.

Q: Once you decided you wanted to write the book, what was your process like? You mentioned that you interviewed more than 150 people.

I wrote my first piece on helicopter parenting in 2005 in the Chicago Tribune. So I've been thinking about it. This book is coming out basically 10 years later. It's been in my mind as a problem, as a concern that grew greater and greater over the course of the many years. I knew that what I was seeing was only what I was seeing.

So while I was still dean, I was very interested in, what were other colleagues around the nation at different schools seeing? I would go to conferences and top of mind for many, many colleagues -- whether at the highly selective schools in tiers one, two, three, whatever the tiers were -- at colleges and universities around the country, colleagues in advising, as I was, or freshman transition or residential education were all noticing the involvement of parents and this sort of helplessness of students. We were all talking about it.

So I knew that it was more than just my perception and at Stanford. I knew that my colleagues elsewhere were saying they were seeing the same kind of stuff. My hunch was that this encroachment, this parental involvement in the spaces and places that used to be of adulthood would lead to some kind of emptiness, some kind of psychological under-constructiveness of the child. I had that hunch. I'm not a psychologist ... I had this hunch because I like humans. I'm interested in humans. And I was watching young humans go past me and I was watching this decline in this hunger to be the self.

When I wrote that op-ed in 2005, there were no studies out. There might have been one study out somewhere saying, "This is likely to contribute to greater rates of anxiety or depression or whatever," but there was nothing. Now there are plenty of studies out there. What I'm telling you is that the evidence mounted around me. My own gut sense, my own instincts, were confirmed.

But still I thought I needed to go talk to lots of people. Where can I go? If my hunch is that things have really changed and that young adults are really different today and that that might not be good for them or for us as a society, where do I go? My first attempt at interviews was with West Point, which has sent young men and now young men and women into harm's way, to be officers in the United States army for over 100 years. What were they saying? There are a couple great interviews in the book.

We're not talking about every kid, by any means. We're talking about some in this population and more and more each year, it seems. And West Point would say the same thing: "We never saw this and now we're seeing it and we're seeing it at greater numbers and it worries us."

Teach for America has been in existence since I graduated from college and (is) sending the best and brightest into the nation's most underperforming school districts. They are seeing this encroachment of parents into the corps' members' lives. So those were two kind of vanguard institutions, I felt, that could tell me a thing or two about how their cohorts were changing over the years. Their stories, their frustrations, their opinions, their experiences began to bear this hunch out. When I found some traction there, that's what gave me the sense that, "OK, this is a good path to pursue. Let me talk to as many people as I can and let me see what resonates."

Fundamentally we're talking about shifts in the human experience and the human story unfolding. I wanted to interview as many people as I did to really try to understand the shape and the nuance and the inflection points. It's like when a wave comes in and disrupts the sand. The sand used to look this way, and now it looks like this. How did that happen? I was trying to get a sense of what happened, why it happened, how it happened, what it would mean, what are the consequences.

Q: How were you influenced by being a parent in Palo Alto, a community notorious for its helicopter parents and culture of hyper-achievement?

It's emblematic. (It's) not unique -- certainly there are communities like ours, many around the nation -- but we certainly are a prime example. I had my "aha" moment in 2009. Every year at (new student) orientation ... we had a big dinner for parents of Stanford freshman. I got to be one of the people that spoke at this dinner. In my remarks, I would say, essentially, "Trust that you've instilled in your kids a set of skills such that they've got this. Trust that the university is here to do not as little as we can get away with, but as much as we can for your son or daughter. its what we do. And now please go home." Those were essentially the three messages but delivered in a very compassionate yet emphatic way.

I give this speech ... get home, my kids are already asleep. I go to work the next morning and come home for dinner the next day. Twenty-four hours later, I'm at dinner now, not with 2,500 parents but with two kids and my husband. My kids are 8 and 10 (years old). I lean over and I start cutting my son's meat. He was 10. I had this, "Oh my god, I'm one of those parents!" When do you stop cutting their meat? No one tells you. It's not in any book. There's not a video about this. This is just meant to be common sense. We've lost our common sense about how to foster these skill sets in our kids. You can imagine, I was mortified.

Also, I looked around and realized, there are equivalents of cutting his meat everywhere. When do you stop holding their hand? When do you stop crossing the street with them? When do you let them talk to strangers? When do they walk some place alone? All of a sudden I understood why 18-year-olds might be showing up a little bit more attached to mom or dad if these tiny micro-steps toward independence had not been taken along the way. How do you expect someone at 18 to just be ready? It was that moment that made me examine what I was doing, made me realize, "Wait a minute, I know better. I see what I see with 18-year-olds and 20-year-olds and 22-year-olds, and now I get how childhood is meant to be constructing this independent self and may be failing to because we're doing so much, because we're so helpful and we're so present and we've got it all figured out." We're trying to be the best parents we can be and we're helping, helping, helping, helping.

I became in that moment empathic. I think I had been compassionate but critical before that. That was the humbling part. I realized ... I am on track to be that parent. I'm glad I had that moment because my husband and I had to figure out, what are we doing to foster dependency right here? I had many, many students who were wonderful examples of 18 (years old), adult, independent, working hard to become themselves, wanting to do it for themselves. I want my kid to look like that one, not like that one. What do I do now? And, of course, it's less what I need to do and (more) what do I need to stop doing to create that path to independence for my kid?

Q: What kind of changes did you make?

My kids weren't doing any chores. So they had no responsibilities. They were being waited on hand and foot. We made their meals; we did their laundry; we cleaned up after them. That was the first thing we did. We realized they need to start contributing; they need to feel a sense of accountability and responsibility. ... I think one of the reasons it's hard for parents to stop helping is a parent usually is quicker, neater, gets it right the first time. So as a matter of efficiency, often, we want to handle things, but what we fail to recognize when we do all that is the kid never learns. And then what? Our kids, if they were 8 and 10 at the time, they were very quick to say, "What? If this is so important, why haven't we been doing it all along?" We said, "We made a mistake and we learned and now this needs to happen."

So very quickly we came up with a set of chores, and over the years they've increased. When a kid began to whine and say, "I can't; I don't know how," we said, "OK, here's how you do it." We'd show them and then we'd back off ... recognizing that our job is to continue to step back, to step out of their picture so that they can be in the front and we can step to the back, always there if they need us.

Q: What about with school and homework? In your book you write about parents who are very heavy-handed with their children's homework and school projects.

For me, we weren't overstepping when it came to homework. These were the ways in which we were kind of bewildered by what was happening around us. It was the "mission project" (in) fourth grade. ... My husband and I walked in for the evening where the teacher displays all the projects and kids walk around. It was so obvious that some of the projects had been done by parents. They were just perfect. They were precise ... it was just not done with the hands of a 10-year-old. I thought, "Who do these parents think they're fooling?" What about this poor kid who's getting the message ... "Everyone is ooh-ing and ah-ing over my project" but somewhere in the kid, I bet, they sense that "This is not of my making. I am being praised for something I didn't actually do." I write about this in the book -- this encroaching sense of "I'm not good enough; I need my mom or dad to be there to correct my papers, to do my math homework, to do my mission project." The horrible message no parent would ever intend to send is "You're not capable without me -- but don't worry, I'll always be there for you." Both of those are lies. We won't always be there. If things happen in the natural biological order of things, we predecease our kids. That's how it works. We will not always be there. But we have to know that when we're gone that they (have) it.

We saw the mindset of our kid needs tutoring, our kids needs a coach for this and tutor for that and "fix, fix, fix; mend, mend, mend; perfect, perfect, perfect." Quite frankly, it all looked exhausting to us. We thought, "Who is doing this? How do they have the space and time?"

Q: What role do elite colleges and universities like Stanford play in the "college arms race" and intense attention paid to academic achievement? Do they have some responsibility here? As one person asked in your book, are the elite schools to blame?

My former colleagues in admissions at Stanford are wonderful people. I know that they worry about the extent to which childhood today seems to be so compromised by this exhausting effort to study repeatedly for standardized tests to raise scores, to study madly at the level required by AP classes. I know that they regard this as a real problem in our society. In my book, I say that they're not to blame, but I also say there's probably a lot that the really elite schools could do to help shift behaviors.

Over the years it seems that a higher and higher SAT score is required, a higher and higher GPA is required, more and more activities are required, leadership and community service and all of that seems to be required of a kid to get into college. Everyone my age would say, "There's no way I, the student I was when I was 17, would have gotten into this college today," and we all mean it. But what we're really saying is the expectation of what it means to be an accomplished, hardworking child with promise worthy of admission to a university -- that definition has changed. It's gotten ratcheted up every year. The scores and numbers keep getting higher. Nobody intended this, but with every year beating the last, we've set our kids on this exhausting, breathless race toward the same result, which is admission. It used to take far less to demonstrate effort and accomplishment and promise.

What if a college or university said, "We think it takes a GPA of at least 'here' for a kid to thrive at our school, to really be one of us and make it. You have to have at least this kind of GPA from high school and you have to have at least this SAT or ACT score. It tells us you have the cognitive capacity, the work ethic, the various aptitudes we expect you to have so that you can succeed in our classrooms." Once somebody meets that threshold, why not stop looking at the numbers? When you are now looking at the thousands of kids who have made that cut, what you really want to know then is who are they? What do they really care about? What will they contribute to our campus and to the learning of each other? That's where an essay, a letter of recommendation tells you so much more than a 3.917 versus a 4.013. But when those numbers are staring at an admissions committee member, it's hard not to see them somehow as differentiating.

"This one's GPA is 0.1 higher." When you're looking at that incredibly high end of the spectrum, does that really mean anything anymore? It told you something for purposes of they made the cut, but now that you're examining all those who made the cut, maybe we can focus more on the qualities and characteristics that really get at who the human is as opposed to how much they were able to study. When you take into the account the fact that people say that the SAT score is to some degree a function of wealth -- that is, your score improves the more you can study for it and take it, which itself is a function of how many dollars you have because its expensive -- you don't want that to be the distinguishing factor. I think if colleges were to say, "In order to be in the running you've got to be at least here," but then stop looking at those things, what would happen is a place like Stanford might end up accepting people -- if this is the band (holding her hands up, with one about a foot above the other) they might end up accepting many people in this range (gesturing toward her bottom hand). Their average SAT score would go down. I think it's only the biggest schools, the biggest brand name schools that have the heft of reputation such that if they followed that route and their average SAT score took a bit of a ding, they would still be regarded as a preeminent school. The biggies, I think, are the only ones. You see these outliers -- you see the Sarah Lawrences, the Reeds who say, "We're not going to look at scores." And those are great schools. But the schools that people are just hell-bent on getting into, if they could signal, "We don't want you to mortgage your childhood; it's not about these tiny differences in GPA; that's not why we want you," I think they could really lead by doing something like that.

Q: Are you hopeful that could happen?

Essentially, I think, we have to reset the bar of what's expected of our children. The phrase that I use is "They're mortgaging their childhood." This is a debt. ... When you look at the rates of mental health difficulty experienced by adolescents and young adults and college students, it's hard not to put the two together. Again, this is not my area (of expertise). But there's something about childhood today that is just breeding this helplessness and hopelessness. I'd really, really like to see us reset the bar and figure out how to more effectively assess a young man's or woman's capacity for thriving at an institution. I am optimistic, actually, because educators fundamentally care about helping a human grow into their adult selves, enhancing a human's intellectual capacities and aptitudes. But more than that, they're interested in the whole human. Who's more interested in that than educators? I know the concern is there. I think the question is, how can this be done? How can these shifts be made thoughtfully and meaningfully? But I am optimistic that the people who do this for a living will come up with a better way, a way that either creates a disincentive for all of this resume building or creates a different kind of incentive. I'd be really excited to see that happen.

Q: How do you reach the parents who are overparenting but don't realize it, who aren't seeking this kind of narrative out?

This problem arises whenever you're trying to create societal change. There's always the choir -- you're preaching to the choir -- and then there's everybody else. How do you get to the everybody else? It happens in politics; it happens in communities. I think often what you really need is someone from within that community of non-adopters to get it and then preach to their own choir. As parents, we're influenced by our own values and our own ideals. If we've got a partner, hopefully we're on board with them. But we also join a community of other parents with whom we're like-minded, and we tend to be interested in following or joining people we respect. I think those of us who believe we're harming our kids by overparenting, who believe we know better and are trying to do things differently, we have to be brave enough to be vocal. It can be hard to go against the herd of parenting, the trend, the way everyone seems to be doing it. But to be gently, respectfully vocal about a counter opinion is, I think, required. That bravery is required. Our kids deserve that. Those of us who feel this way must speak out.

I think there are people in communities where overparenting is regarded as the standard way -- there are people in those communities who do speak up and I think those are the voices that need to be heard. For example, Frank Wu, who I quote in my book, who's the dean at UC Hastings Law School, is Chinese-American (and) has written about what it's like to endure a childhood where you're expected to be No. 1 or it's not worth getting out of bed. I think someone like Frank Wu needs to say that in his community, as an example. Frank Wu is going to be the effective voice of change; Frank Wu has the greatest chance of being respected in the Chinese-American community because he's of the community. I think there are communities of all kinds where somebody from within is going to be the strongest, most compelling voice.

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3 people like this
Posted by Jackie B
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2015 at 4:13 am

The phenomena of over parenting in 4 year elite schools is frighteningly real. I saw all of what Julie Lythcott Haims describes in my experience with my first child and the university she attended. Every parent was at student orientation. But it was structured that way and there was an expectation on the university's part that the parents would be there. So although I was a bit confused as to why I needed to be at my daughters college orientation, I went, because I didn't want her to be the only kid there without her parents. I also felt the "show" that the university put on was an opportunity for them to solicit donations from the parents. All the money they spent on their show didn't benefit the students it was purely for parents because the kids were in their own meetings. Is this a chicken or egg scenario? My second child for many reasons is not able to go away to school and is attending community college. At community college the parents don't go to orientation. No one needs to tell the parents not to be involved to that degree. What does that say about how the direction of the trajectory of this generations future goes? What type of society are we creating here? If elite universities made a point of saying demonstrated independence on the part of the student was a factor in admission would parents back off? Or is the societal fear norms (can't go play on the playground alone at 12 years old) so much greater than that?

20 people like this
Posted by my thoughts
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 27, 2015 at 6:36 am


While I have no doubt that there are a few parents out there who are "just breeding this helplessness and hopelessness" in their children, I wonder why you don't provide any context to help your reader assess how big, or small, a problem this is.

Without that context, your global “free range” message can actually hurt, not help, teens whose powerful brain desire centers are paired up with underdeveloped judgment centers leading some to make quite unhealthy, and in some cases lethal, decisions. Kids benefit from involved parents.

Here’s what I’ve learned and observed about that missing context ‘round Palo Alto in all sorts of school settings:

Severe depression: 3% of Palo Alto (and US) teens suffer from debilitating, diagnosable depression and another 7% to a significant but lesser degree.

These are our kids who are most at risk and not thriving. You say you are not an expert so you don’t know what is the cause. Schools? Parents? Toxins in the environment? I don't know either but again these kids are helped, not hurt, by parents who are involved in the minute details of their lives.

The other 90%?

The parents who held their children’s hands crossing the street longer than you advise have raised children who are secure and feel loved, who have grown into confident and independent young adults, and who are thriving in large part because of their parents’ doting.

I posit that many (most?) of the unknown number of kids in the 90% who are not thriving when they get to college, even those from idyllic Palo Alto, were raised by too distracted or, for some, abusive parents.

To help those kids, how about a book on how parents can be more helicopter-ish and what communities can do to help make that happen?

35 people like this
Posted by Tired of this
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 27, 2015 at 8:53 am

JLH has some of her personal views and observations about how to be a 'good parent'. However, she has no training in psychology or early childhood education, or in education of any kind for that matter. Nor is she an LMFT even. She is not an expert at child rearing. She has not even finished raising her own children.

[Portion removed.]

The irony of this book is that the only reason anyone has any interest in buying it or reading it or in learning the opinions of the author is that she was an admissions officer at Stanford University, and parents interested in getting their kids into schools like Stanford are interested in learning how people who read applications think. [Portion removed.]

Ignored or not part of the publicity campaign are all the systemic reasons we have for the ratcheting up of pressure and stress, and all the structural reasons connected to rising inequality, immigration, globalization, etc that have given rise to the social phenomena that JLH thinks she is discussing. She thinks she is talking about parenting but actually she is talking about how larger forces like these are putting pressure on schools, families, and teens to ensure that they do not experience downward mobility. In addition, the aggressive corporate marketing of technology to teens has had serious impacts that are unknown on the developing brain. Ultimately she is writing about the harms of late capitalism and the kinds of social transformations that we are experiencing and the ways that those transformations reach into the lives of children.

She discusses really none of that and instead plays to the cheap seats, attacking parents (sotto voco Chinese parents) for doing a bad job at navigating the dystopia in which they find themselves trying to be good parents.

Rather than buying this book, donate your $30 to Challenge Success instead, or better yet to Kara, since they are going to need it.

16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2015 at 9:19 am

Well then, when should parents start backing off? Perhaps you think parents should be attending their kids job interviews too. No. Teach them how to advocate for themselves long before they go to college. Cutting off the apron strings hurts parents more than kids and makes the kids stronger as a result.

13 people like this
Posted by Tired of this
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 27, 2015 at 10:22 am

[Post removed.]

37 people like this
Posted by Blah Blah Blah
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 27, 2015 at 12:52 pm

[Post removed.]

20 people like this
Posted by InstitutionalFailings
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 27, 2015 at 7:45 pm

@Resident asks a great question: "Well then, when should parents start backing off?"

Answer: When the institutions start performing.

When I was a kid, my parents did not really get involved in my schooling, homework, transportation, etc. I was a free-range kid, probably more so than JLH. But my school was not dysfunctional. I did not have teachers overloading me beyond reason with homework; nor did they feel the need to pressure or intimidate me. I was not taught by union hacks who did not know my name or my existence in their classroom. They were professionals who did their job well.

They shared my grades with me when things weren't going well, and they initiated discussions to help get me back on track. They offered advice. They stayed after school when I had questions. Some of them stayed after school to help me with projects that I had initiated - they just wanted to help.

When I compare my experience to the industrial uncaring schools today, there is a world of difference. JLH has not yet completed high school with her kids, but I can tell you even as early as middle school, the signs of institutional failure abounded. Teachers who taught through homework; teachers who had no idea who your kid was, and openly defied caring at all. "I have 130 students to teach, how could I possibly know what your kid needs". Not just bad teachers in the sense of failing to instruct the material, but teachers who bully, belittle and intimidate students to the point of mental wreck. And feckless administrators who either don't care, or cannot stand up for the students in their charge.

When you see the failed institutions, you understand why Parents MUST stay deeply involved. On a daily basis.

It is often for the protection of their child. Freedom? Play outside with other kids? Hang out and enjoy yourself? No, that does not really happen - they have homework. And lots of it. So much that the Parents have to track it. Literally, I have had teachers unaware of the volume and complexity of homework they were assigning. Give a 6th grader 47 different assignments in a week, and expect their organizational skills to track all that? Not going to work.

JLH has given the failed institutions a pass. Doesn't mention them at all. Too bad - she has most of the data in front of her, and a pulpit to speak from that could drive real change. But it is easier to go after parents - that is what she saw at Stanford. Not realizing the forces behind the history of her students that drove the parents to that role. It is a somewhat superficial analysis of the environment creating helicopter parents. For most of us, it is not by choice.

20 people like this
Posted by Pulllleeeeeze
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2015 at 8:03 am

[Post removed.]

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2015 at 8:40 am

Julie, keep it up.

Apart from the need to sometimes stand up for your teens with a bad teacher or similar, most teens need to at least start to stand up for themselves and learn how to deal with a bad situation. If they get nowhere or ignored, then parents can and should step in obviously.

But parents lecturing dmv test examiners, blackmailing teachers (sorry offering gifts to teachers), doing homework, driving them everywhere, telling them what classes to take and what hobbies to have, as well as going off to college orientation/registrations, is so common that these kids are not just growing up to be independent.

My parents didn't do it to me, I won't do it (unless absolutely necessary) to my kids. If they ask for advice, of course they get it. They ride their bikes, put air in their tires and other maintenance, walk, use buses and Caltrain, get summer jobs and have chores. They may moan about doing it and tell me I'm a mean parent, but they are capable of standing on their own two feet.

This generation don't know how good they have it, particularly Palo Alto kids.

16 people like this
Posted by my thoughts
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 28, 2015 at 9:44 am

Just stumbled upon a JLH interview where she answers my question.

Her book is about "privileged" kids.

I still don't have a handle on how many of those privileged kids are "too" parented (are we talking about 1% of the 1%?), but at least she narrowed it down a bit.

She goes on to say that because something just affects privileged kids does not mean that it doesn't need addressing: "If the ["privileged"] kids subjected to this type of parenting weren't suffering greater rates of anxiety and depression than the general population, then maybe we could wave this off as not-a-real problem."

Web Link

Might want to check the stats on that Ms. Haims.

[Portion removed due to incorrect factual reference.]

22 people like this
Posted by fellow parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 28, 2015 at 11:16 am

@my thoughts,

I don't think JLH's message is entirely a "free range" perspective, because parents who tend to be free range also tend to have a pretty independent spirit about education. JLH on the other hand holds institutions and schools entirely blameless in the problems she cites and while, on the one hand, tells parents to back off, also tells them to leave their children's education entirely to "the professionals".

Free range advocates tend to be pretty heavily into things like homeschooling and independent study, because the traditional western school model is based on the Prussian model which was geared to producing compliant workers and soldiers for the industrial revolution, and is pretty hard on the individual spirit of independence. Today's classrooms vary very little from that. Research is showing that putting kids in this system in which they are constantly required to jump over other people's hurdles and constantly judged for it, with their time taken up (in school and after school) by doing what other people tell them all the time, hurts their autonomy. The kids are in a system that was overtly designed to destroy their autonomy, and when the kids who engage most intensely in that system end up helpless, we blame the parents.

While I do really believe in the underlying message of fostering children's independence, JLH's analysis and advice seem self serving for educational administrators (no bias there).

I'm having a little trouble understanding how Challenge Success fits with JLH's message, too. I really appreciate their work and think our schools would be better off if they'd give the work more than lip service. But how does this fit with JLH's blaming parents for everything? Because if the institutions are entirely blameless and shining bastions of everything that is good and right, why exactly is Challenge Success working with schools?

14 people like this
Posted by Pulllleeeeeeze
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 28, 2015 at 11:34 am

[Post removed. Make your point respectfully.]

12 people like this
Posted by fellow parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 28, 2015 at 9:31 pm

There are a number of screenings of the movie "Most Likely to Succeed" in the area coming up, if you missed the sold-out-to-overflowing showing at Gunn (and the Gunn gym where the hundreds of overflow audience went and was also sold out).

The upcoming Los Altos showing is sold out but there may be seats at the Fremont library showing tomorrow night, Saturday.

In looking at reforming our system, the film discusses the history of education and how our current system was brought to the US by industrialists who wanted the same kind of compliant workforce and workers as they saw in the Prussian system. Since JLH's whole thesis is about independence and autonomy, and blames parents for everything while saying institutions are 100% blameless, not at fault, that's a relevant point. I just can't take her seriously when she makes such a claim, and in addition, comes out with Challenge Success who works with schools. (If institutions are entirely blameless, as JLH suggest, why is Challenge Success working with schools?)

3 people like this
Posted by my thoughts
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 29, 2015 at 5:33 am

Did some digging:

Alfie Kohn on helicopter parent research - “Strident denunciations of HP are particularly unfortunate… Research [makes] a case in favor of parents’ being actively connected and involved with their young-adult children, [with helicoptered students] more satisfied with every aspect of their college experience.” Web Link ("No Helicopter Parents Aren't Ruining Kids After All")


JLH poses in her book that "the increase in mental health problems among college students may reflect the lengths to which we push kids," citing that 84.3% said "they’d felt overwhelmed” at least once in the last year.

Not shared was what was particularly traumatic or difficult for those students to handle that year, which could have caused that anxiety:

- 57% an intimate or social relationship
- 36% finances

And lack of sleep: 79% were exhausted. (partial list)

Your parents' parenting style making you ill-prepared to handle college life's challenges? Not asked.

American College Health Association Survey


PAUSD students' mental health

"Felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities"

- 29.9% US
- 24% PAUSD 11th grade

"Attempted suicide 1 or more times during the 12 months before the survey"
- 8% US
"Ever tried to kill yourself"
- 3% PAUSD 11th grade

Web Link
Web Link

It certainly appears that Palo Alto's privileged kids are suffering lower rates of anxiety and depression than the general population.

Could that be because their parents helicopter?

4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 29, 2015 at 6:28 am

I agree that overparenting is on the rise, especially seen between a parent and an only child. (mother-son / father-daughter).

An interesting article was in The Spectator about Chinese children who are unable to do anything (cook, clean, socialize) because their parents were over-doting, and did everything for them.
Web Link

It seems like enmeshment / co-dependence between a lonely insecure parent and an only child.

17 people like this
Posted by fellow parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 29, 2015 at 8:03 am

The trouble here is that people are using the term "helicopter parent" to suit their purposes anytime they want to participate in whatever public stoning they happen to be attracted to at the moment, and are even using it to pathologize family closeness.

The situation is China is SO not comparable to here, and that whole overdoting thing with the first boy is older than our nation. By a lot. On the very extreme was the emperor whose feet weren't ever even supposed to touch the earth. (That whole situation is not a comparable situation even in Chinese Americans.) I've read that educated Chinese are forgetting how to write because they use computers. I suppose you could find a way to blame that on overdoting parents who buy their kids computers. (That was me rolling my eyes.) The situation does not translate to here - way too mamy culture-specific details.

I also don't think there is evidence of any unusual brain-eating behavior "on the rise". Doted-on kids not learning to cook for themselves is nothing new either. I don't think I can even count the number of grad students I knew (decades ago) who couldn't cook for themselves who became adults who relied on takeout. I'm pretty sure if it meant their survival, they'd learn. I don't think there were many men from my Dad's generation or before who learned how to cook for themselves, either, yet they managed to survive. No one I know knows how to hunt for their dinner anymore, either. Would they have starved instead of just learning, as my spouse's grandfather did to survive during the depression?

This is all starting to look like a way to pile on to other people out of jealousy or spite. The (healthy and unique) closeness in only child family relationships has been shown in research. I've witnessed that same kind of ugly speculation in schools among administrators, when there were power, jealousy, or even unhealthy gossip problems at play (also an old story in schools). It becomes a way to attack people with no way for the attacked to defend themselves. Again, old story to label someone else's behavior as neurotic or lonely or hysterical (in the old misogynistic sense) to get the upper hand.

My spouse hires a lot of people including college and high school student (interns) and has for many years. My cousin is the head of HR for a major Silicon Valley firm. Neither have a single story about a high school student or college student bringing a parent to an interview or making their phone calls for them.

School, on the other hand, is a place where kids are rewarded on an ongoing basis for compliance and suppressing their independence and creativity. Kids spend most of their time in school, at least during the school year. (Adolescent psych beds locally are empty in summer - gee, the "helicopter parents" presumably don't take the summer off...)

7 people like this
Posted by fellow parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 29, 2015 at 8:12 am

Here's an interesting and well-researched article about (old term) "mama's boys" (turns out, it's a good thing) and when interdependence between moms and daughters can be negative. I found this article to ring far more true.
Web Link

4 people like this
Posted by Enough Already
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 29, 2015 at 9:43 am

[Post removed.]

8 people like this
Posted by A Gunn Parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 29, 2015 at 10:13 am

Please don't take the advice of anyone because they have Stanford in their credentials. This includes Challenge Success. The double speak around raising a successful child is rampant in all their 'parenting advice'. The subtext is that problems are all the parent's fault, and that failure is okay - failure being, not getting into an 'elite institution'. Until we are willing to allow our children to succeed at having the authentic life they are meant to have, until we free ourselves from the shackles created by the marketing departments of these institutions, and genuinely devote ourselves as parents to seeing through this bs, we will continue to misguide ourselves and our children. The awful message from these lecturers, who go around talking down to students and parents, peddling the very harmful concept that success is generated and evaluated by a few institutions, is built in to the whole challenge success messaging. I refuse to allow these people to tell me how to parent, or what success is. I also refuse to accept their sly message that letting my children be failures is okay.

4 people like this
Posted by fellow parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 29, 2015 at 10:54 am

@A Gunn Parent,

I do appreciate what you are saying, but please don't conflate JLH's message with Challenge Success's. They really seem to conflict in many ways. I always thought our schools should have done better than lip service to Challenge Success's input. Perhaps because of JLH's Stanford ties and her being on CS's board, they are lecturing together and people are probably confusing the two. That's unfortunate.

1 person likes this
Posted by A Gunn Parent
a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 29, 2015 at 4:37 pm

Fellow Parent, I did not misstate my opinion. Thank you for the suggestion, though.

6 people like this
Posted by Former PA parent
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 29, 2015 at 8:03 pm

As the parent of former PAUSD students who graduated in the last ten years, I wholeheartedly agree with Julie Lythcott-Haims. When my children went to college, I could not believe the stories they had for me. My daughter had a roommate who would send all the papers to her parents to edit! In college! And stories of parents who were constantly around and jumping in for every single little thing. Parents who would call professors on their children's behalf, etc. I sure am glad that I raised my children to be independent as soon as they entered college, by giving them early on wide berth to choose their own classes, make their own decisions where appropriate, and allowing them to make their mistakes and deal with the consequences. They actually thank me for this now and they are doing very well, including in the real world of the workplace for the older ones.

JLH is right on.

7 people like this
Posted by fellow parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 29, 2015 at 11:31 pm

I was the kid whose parents were the type to throw you in the lake to learn how to swim. The independence was great but I envied kids like you describe. Not to make light of it, but I have similar enough stories from when I was in college a few decades ago. I knew a guy from Hong Kong who went away to college when he was 16 so his mother lived in his DORM room and cooked for him. For the record, he turned out to be a nice, well-adjusted, successful person (whose mother stayed and cooked for him through grad school). I could tell many other stories. I wouldn't personally do that to any kid I know, but to each his own. I just find the condemnation of others and this perfect parenting bit to be the extreme and potentially harmful thing here.

The irony of course is how many successful, professional writers who will tell you to have someone you trust read and edit your work (for many, it's their mothers). It took me years after college to undo the unhelpful idea from school that I shouldn't have someone else edit my work. (The irony in the condemnation of course is that JLH still lives with her mother, I think.)

We just saw that movie Mr. Turner about the famous English painter. His dad acted as his assistant who prepared all his paint for him and his canvases... Clearly, helicopter parenting is an old tradition. (Doesn't seem to have hurt him much.)

I guess, I think people should take a chill pill and a lesson from the book itself, and stop trying to be so controlling about other people even while absorbing the message to stop trying to control one's kids. (Don't just redirect the controlling and judgment to other people and their kids, which seems to be the way of "perfect parenting" advocates.)

1 person likes this
Posted by Tired of this
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Aug 30, 2015 at 9:20 am

[Post removed; repetitive of previous posts from same commenter.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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