If You Love Your Kids, Let Them Learn to Live Without You

When I was a kid, there was no such thing as helicopter parenting. My folks loved me but they didn’t hover over me, bubble-wrap me or micro-manage me. They only learned my marks on report card day and they only spoke to my teachers or coaches when it was absolutely necessary for them to do so.

My parents expected me to do my own homework and to participate in the household chores. At the same time, I was given the freedom to run around, explore, develop skills and gain independence.

Whatever confidence I have today began with my parents allowing me to take risks, do things on my own, and learn from my successes and from my failures.

Unfortunately, helicopter parenting has become the new normal and the way today’s parents seem to be showing their love, but it has dire consequences for college-aged kids.

When I went to university at the age of nineteen I dealt with the ups and downs of being away from home for the first time without having to lean on my parents. It would never have occurred to me to involve them in my academic or social life.

Today, parental over-involvement is commonplace. Helicopter parents are in constant communication with their kids and are frequently in touch with teachers and school administrators. Many of them are plugged into apps that check their kids’ grades on an hourly basis.

And this is in addition to the years of having done their kid’s homework for them, having brought them their lunch at school, having constantly negotiated with their teachers, coaches and tutors and having involved themselves in almost every aspect of their kid’s life. Parents think that this is loving but in fact, it’s crippling their kids.

I’ve been closely following what the experts are saying about helicopter parenting. One of these experts is Julie Lythcott-Haims, the former dean of students at Stanford University and the author of the best-selling book on parenting, How to Raise an Adult. She’ll be speaking about this topic at a free event in Toronto on September 26th.

Lythcott-Haims observed how the students at her university were struggling to cope, both personally and academically, because their parents had been doing too much for them. She also saw how she herself was at risk of becoming a helicopter parent, and her book came out of these two realizations.

From my experiences both personally and professionally, I’ve seen how over-parenting is damaging to kids. On the other hand, I’ve identified two types of parental interventions that are extremely beneficial to kids, because they’ll teach them to think and fend for themselves.

The first intervention is giving kids more responsibilities, such as expecting them to do their own homework, make their own lunch and actively participate in the household chores. The second is taking a step back and allowing kids to figure things out on their own.

Many people believe that helicopter parenting is a good thing because at first glance, it seems to confer some benefits. Lythcott-Haims describes how “all hovering behaviours have short-term wins.”

While it’s true that helicopter parents might be able to catch a kid before he falls, how does this kid ever learn to take care of himself as an adult?

Over-involved parents might get a difficult teacher or coach to cooperate in the moment, but then how will the young person on the receiving end ever learn to speak up for herself?

The long-term problem with helicopter parenting is that it turns kids into helpless young adults who can’t function in the real world.

Over-protecting and under-expecting creates young adults who begin to fall apart as soon as they step out of the nest. These individuals become overwhelmed when dealing with the simplest challenges at school or at work and they expect their parents to come to their rescue, whether they’re nineteen or twenty-nine.

A local hiring director I know was astounded when a twenty-something candidate showed up for a job interview with one of her parents in tow. Needless to say, the candidate didn’t get the job.

A colleague of mine was shocked when a new employee’s mother showed up with his lunch on his first day at work. This young person didn’t make it through his probation period.

An employment lawyer described having met with a young man in his late twenties who brought his parents along to discuss a case of wrongful dismissal. If a young adult needs his parents to hold his hand in this way, it makes me wonder if there was a good reason for his dismissal.

One of the most serious consequences of helicopter parenting is the sky-rocketing rate of anxiety and depression in college-aged youth. In a future article, I’ll go into depth about this current mental health crisis.

I was lucky to have grown up in a time when helicopter parenting didn’t exist, but parents today can unlearn their bad habits. They can see that what their kids really need is for them to step back from coddling and micro-managing.

Lythcott-Haims reminds parents that “our job… is to put ourselves out of a job,” and I’d add that it’s the best way for us to show our kids love.

Parents need to recognize that teaching kids how to learn to live without them is what will enable these kids to become independent, self-sufficient, successful adults and and what will guarantee them a happy and successful future.

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Check out my latest podcast. Julie Lythcott-Haims discusses how we became helicopter parents and how to switch gears and give kids what they need to grow up into high-functioning adults.