Here is the full transcript of author Julie Lythcott-Haims’ TED Talk: How to Raise Successful Kids – Without Over-Parenting…
Listen to the MP3 Audio: How to raise successful kids – without over-parenting by Julie Lythcott-Haims
Julie Lythcott-Haims – Author
You know, I didn’t set out to be a parenting expert. In fact, I’m not very interested in parenting, per se.
It’s just that there’s a certain style of parenting these days that is kind of messing up kids, impeding their chances to develop into their selves. There’s a certain style of parenting these days that’s getting in the way I guess what I’m saying is, we spend a lot of time being very concerned about parents who aren’t involved enough in the lives of their kids and their education or their upbringing, and rightly so.
But at the other end of the spectrum, there’s a lot of harm going on there as well, where parents feel a kid can’t be successful unless the parent is protecting and preventing at every turn and hovering over every happening, and micromanaging every moment, and steering their kid towards some small subset of colleges and careers.
When we raise kids this way, and I’ll say we — because Lord knows, in raising my two teenagers, I’ve had these tendencies myself, our kids end up leading a kind of checklisted childhood.
And here’s what the checklisted childhood looks like. We keep them safe and sound and fed and watered, and then we want to be sure they go to the right schools, that they’re in the right classes at the right schools, and that they get the right grades in the right classes in the right schools.
But not just the grades, the scores, and not just the grades and scores, but the accolades and the awards and the sports, the activities, the leadership. We tell our kids, don’t just join a club, start a club, because colleges want to see that. And check the box for community service.
I mean, show the colleges you care about others. And all of this is done to some hoped-for degree of perfection. We expect our kids to perform at a level of perfection we were never asked to perform at ourselves. And so — because so much is required, we think, well then, of course we parents have to argue with every teacher and principal and coach and referee and act like our kid’s concierge and personal handler and secretary.
And then with our kids, our precious kids, we spend so much time nudging, cajoling, hinting, helping, haggling, nagging as the case may be, to be sure they’re not screwing up, not closing doors, not ruining their future, some hoped-for admission to a tiny handful of colleges that deny almost every applicant. And here’s what it feels like to be a kid in this checklisted childhood.
First of all, there’s no time for free play. There’s no room in the afternoons, because everything has to be enriching, we think. It’s as if every piece of homework, every quiz, every activity is a make-or-break moment for this future we have in mind for them. And we absolve them of helping out around the house, and we even absolve them of getting enough sleep as long as they’re checking off the items on their checklist.
And in the checklisted childhood, we say we just want them to be happy, but when they come home from school, what we ask about all too often first is their homework and their grades. And they see in our faces that our approval, that our love, that their very worth, comes from A’s.
And then we walk alongside them and offer clucking praise like a trainer at the Westminster Dog Show — coaxing them to just jump a little higher and soar a little farther, day after day after day. And when they get to high school, they don’t say, “Well, what might I be interested in studying or doing as an activity?”
They go to counselors and they say, “What do I need to do to get into the right college?” And then, when the grades start to roll in in high school, and they’re getting some B’s, or God forbid some C’s, they frantically text their friends and say, “Has anyone ever gotten into the right college with these grades?”
And our kids, regardless of where they end up at the end of high school, they’re breathless. They’re brittle. They’re a little burned out. They’re a little old before their time, wishing the grown-ups in their lives had said, “What you’ve done is enough, this effort you’ve put forth in childhood is enough.”
And they’re withering now under high rates of anxiety and depression and some of them are wondering, will this life ever turn out to have been worth it? Well, we parents, we parents are pretty sure it’s all worth it. We seem to behave — it’s like we literally think they will have no future if they don’t get into one of these tiny set of colleges or careers we have in mind for them.
Or maybe, maybe, we’re just afraid they won’t have a future we can brag about to our friends and with stickers on the backs of our cars. Yeah… But if you look at what we’ve done, if you have the courage to really look at it, you’ll see that not only do our kids think their worth comes from grades and scores, but that when we live right up inside their precious developing minds all the time, like our very own version of the movie “Being John Malkovich,” we send our children the message: “Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.”
And so with our overhelp, our overprotection and overdirection and hand-holding, we deprive our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy, which is a really fundamental tenet of the human psyche, far more important than that self-esteem they get every time we applaud.
Self-efficacy is built when one sees that one’s own actions lead to outcomes, not — There you go. Not one’s parents’ actions on one’s behalf, but when one’s own actions lead to outcomes. So simply put, if our children are to develop self-efficacy, and they must, then they have to do a whole lot more of the thinking, planning, deciding, doing, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming and experiencing of life for themselves.
Now, am I saying every kid is hard-working and motivated and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives, and we should just back off and let go? Hell no. That is not what I’m saying.