Parents Perspective

Overparenting in Academics is Not the Answer

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When I was getting ready to go away to college, there were a lot of things my parents had to prepare me for. I was ready for the classes, the tests, and the extracurricular activities, but what about everything else? I had to learn how to do laundry, clean, pay bills, and cook (note: I once managed to set Easy Mac on fire)...#sendhelp!

My parents included a happy balance of control and freedom into my upbringing: They made my bed when I forgot to, washed my dishes when I "accidentally" left them in the sink, and separated my whites and colors before they did my laundry, but I was expected to figure out plenty of life on my own, too. It turns out my parents decision to take a more hands-off approach when it came to overseeing my school work (they sat with me when I completed homework growing up, but always made it clear that doing well in school was encouraged, but generally my decision, and an A- was not failure) may have led to my later success in college and grad school.

In Julie Lythcott-Haims' book, How To Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid For Success she points to overparenting as a cause for the growing number of psychological problems college students are facing today. "The data emerging about the mental health of our kids only confirms the harm done by asking so little of them when it comes to life skills yet so much of them when it comes to adhering to the academic plans we've made for them," she writes.

Within the book, Lythcott-Haims quotes Madeline Levine, a psychologist and author of The Price of Privilege, who points to three ways parents are unknowingly causing psychological harm:

  1. When we do for our kids what they can already do for themselves;
  2. When we do for our kids what they can almost do for themselves; and
  3. When our parenting behavior is motivated by our own egos.

Levine says that this is how parents "deprive our kids of the opportunity to be creative, to problem solve, to develop coping skills, to build resilience, to figure out what makes them happy, to figure out who they are."

In the news lately, I've been reading stories of parents on the other end of the spectrum, those considered "free-range." In Maryland, a couple was investigated by authorities and Child Protective Services when their two children, ages 6 and 10, were found at a park without adult supervision. Providing young children with complete freedom like this is not necessarily a solution, but neither is shadowing or controlling their every move. When her study results came in, Lythcott-Haims learned "that figuring out for themselves is a critical element to people's mental health. Your kids have to be there for themselves."

As a kid I learned how to be independent at sleep-away camp when I was going into 4th-grade; I was encouraged to sign up for extracurricular activities I was absolutely horrible at (thanks for those participation trophies, softball!); and I was taught to ask my own questions when it came to concerns over assignments or grades. I still call my parents every day with questions about work, relationships, and standard crises most 20-somethings have, but I also know how to be there for myself.

Melissa Bykofsky is the associate articles editor at Parents who covers millennial trends, entertainment, and pop-culture. Follow her on Twitter @mbykofsky.

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