How Overparenting Can Affect Our Children’s Mental Health
The parenting styles of today have definitely shifted since my days as a kid. Summers were spent exploring the neighborhood on our bikes, community sports teams and long days at the local swimming pool. Today’s parents have the added pressure of needing to navigate their kids’ social media accounts, tryout sports teams, the importance of standardized testing and the overall pressure to ensure the structured and correct path to future success, which may be less about the success of our children and more about the success of our parenting.
In Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book “How To Raise An Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap And Prepare Your Kid for Success,” she speaks to her experience as the Dean of Freshman at Stanford University and her first-hand experience on how overparenting can contribute to the long-term emotional struggles of our children.
What she found was that while many of the kids who passed through the admissions process were well-accomplished on paper, they were way less interesting to talk to, and lacked the skills to be well-rounded, independent adults. These students also lacked the coping skills needed when faced with disappointment, failure and adversity and struggled with increased depression and anxiety. Interestingly enough, she noticed that those who lacked these important coping skills, also had parents who still intervened in their lives from contacting the professors directly about grade challenges, sitting with them for admission interviews; managing conflicts from afar and selecting their courses — essentially protecting and insulating them from future real-world, adult challenges.
While we are well-intentioned in the belief we are protecting them from disappointment, distressing emotions and the hardness of life, we may be actually stunting their development and cultivation of important life skills needed for future success, and contributing to the chances of anxiety and depression.
How do we build resilient and resourceful children? Below are some suggestions for cultivating positive life skills:
1.Have them do chores
Lythcott-Haims cites the Harvard Grant Study, which highlights decades worth of research that indicates that childhood chores are the single biggest predictor of a person’s success. Participating in chores teaches children about teamwork and contribution, giving them a sense of accomplishment. Giving kids a chore list also teaches them that they are responsible for their own mess and organization and others aren’t going to do that for them.
2. Let your kids forget their homework
We all are inclined to run our kids homework, library book, sports equipment to them when they forget it at home. However, Lythcott-Haims suggests letting your children deal with the consequences of forgotten assignments, etc, and in the meantime teaching them responsibility and organization. Lythcott-Haims says it’s a good lesson in teaching them that their parents always won’t come to the rescue.
3. Let them handle their own conflicts
Letting your kids handle personal conflicts is helpful in building assertiveness, conversation skills and dealing with different personalities. As a parent, your first instinct may be to contact the coach with differences in play strategy or calling your child’s friend’s parent when they get into a spat, however teaching your child how to handle conflict, through role playing and positive modeling, is a key life skill.
4.Teach them how to manage their assignments and deadlines
In our oversheduled world, parents are the personal secretaries to their kids’ schedules and homework assignments. With constant reminders, kids look to their parents to tell them about baseball practices and school assignments. However, teaching your kids how to manage their own schedule and prioritize their activities will set them up for success when they transition in college and adulthood and are required to manage their own workloads and personal schedules.
As parents we may falsely believe that hovering and injecting in all aspects of their lives is protecting them, but it may be doing more harm than good. Giving our children the space to take risks and learn valuable life skills will contribute to their overall mental health leading to a more joyful, balanced life.
VanDeVelde, C. (2015). Review: ‘How to Raise an Adult’ by Julie Lythcott-Haims. Retrieved on July 23, 2018 at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-prj-how-to-raise-an-adult-julie-lythcott-haims-20150611-story.html.
Weller, C. (2017). A former Stanford dean reveals 7 ways parents can raise successful kids. Retrieved on July 23, 2018. at http://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-raise-successful-kids-former-stanford-dean-2017-12#be-authoritative-not-authoritarian-1
Erin Swinson, LMHC, LPC