On Feb. 27, "Dean Julie" Lythcott-Haims traveled to Charlottesville, Va. to spend the day at St. Anne's-Belfield School and with the local community.
Lythcott-Haims is both a former corporate lawyer and university dean, having spent more than a decade in the latter position as Stanford University's dean of freshmen. During her time at the university, she noticed a trend of highly accomplished students, often from affluent backgrounds, being "overhelped" by their parents. In 2015, Lythcott-Haims published the New York Times' bestselling book How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success followed in 2016 by a TED Talk on the same topic that has since garnered more than 3 million views.
On campus as part of the School's Inspiration Speaks lecture series, Lythcott-Haims enjoyed breakfast with Upper School faculty members along with discussions of the importance of helping young adults grow into themselves, how parents are hindering rather than helping young adults by attempting to "manufacture" perfect applicants for prestigious colleges, and how educators can create a balance between meeting parental and even collegiate expectations and assisting young adults in their personal journeys.
"Have you ever made a choice? Have they let you make a choice? Or are you just really good at doing what you're told?" Lythcott-Haims remembered wondering when she greeted the more than 1,700 students that comprised a typical freshman class at Stanford University.
She described her job as dean of freshman to simply care about the students, to help "young humans" become themselves, and ultimately to assist students in "getting out of performing a life to hungering to live a life."
"What will become of America if our largest generation in history doesn't know how to #adult?" she asked of the assembled teachers, who went on to ask questions ranging from how college admissions offices may be shifting in viewing applications to what specific topics could be included in a senior-level life skills course.
Following a lunch with local education administrators, Lythcott-Haims met with Upper School students in the afternoon and then presented to more than 300 local and regional community members in Grisham Hall in the evening. In addition to shedding light on the three types of overparenting she has come to recognize - overprotection, overdirection, and excessive handholding - Lythcott-Haims also discussed the three factors she believes motivates all parents and often leads to overparenting: love, fear, and ego. For over an hour she kept the audience entertained, but also informed on the harm of overparenting, using examples ranging from college students who don't feel safe walking a campus without being in touch with a parent, to those who study subjects about which they feel no passion because it is expected of them, to young adults unable to even register themselves for classes without parental involvement.
"Every college and university was seeing the things I was seeing," Lythcott-Haims assured the audience, using an example of a student at a salad bar texting a parent to find out if they like a particular dressing. "These are funny examples of kids who have been overparented... but they end up feeling watched, they end up with a life prescribed for them, they end up protected and they end up perfected... but they have nothing inside of them that says 'you'll be okay...'"
Noting that overparenting largely occurs out of love, Lythcott-Haims reminded parents that it interferes with self-efficacy in children, or their belief in their abilities to carry out certain behaviors and accomplish tasks themselves.
"When we overprotect to get them there, when we overdirect and hold their hands, the psyche knows 'I didn't do this, I didn't do this myself,'" she said, linking this to millennial college students reporting higher levels of depression, loneliness, anxiety, feelings of being overwhelmed, and even suicidal thoughts.
Repeating the tips she often told parents at Stanford University orientations, Lythcott-Haims assured attendees that they must trust their children, they must trust the colleges and universities, and then they must leave the campuses.
Lythcott-Haims shared personal recollections of her own children's paths to high school and college, then reminded attendees that children, just like adults, want to feel valued and loved for who they are rather than their GPA, awards, or other accolades. To ensure this, she stressed, parents cannot meet them at the front door and demand details of what they did that day, how they performed, and ultimately how they excelled.
Following the presentation, Lythcott-Haims signed copies of her books How to Raise an Adult and her 2017 memoir Real American, with volumes available on site from the local New Dominion Bookshop.
As the latest speaker in the Inspiration Speaks series, Lythcott-Haims joined the ranks of fellow educational experts and past speakers Erika Christakis, Dr. Madeline Levine, Dr. Gene Batiste, and Dr. Sugata Mitra. More information on the series is available at www.stab.org/inspirationspeaks