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Articles Tweens Teens & Twenties

Stop Doing Everything for Your Kids and Set Them on the Path to Independence

As the unrecognizable mother appeals to her, the teen girl ignores her mother. The teen is frustrated and angry.

By Sandi Schwartz | Contributor

Imagine spending all this time and energy raising your kids, and then when you send them off to college someday, you still have to call to wake them up every morning to make sure they get to class on time. Sounds shocking, right? When I was in college twenty years ago, I can recall going multiple days, maybe even up to a couple of weeks, without communicating with my parents. Sure, this was before cell phones, text messaging, and Facebook, but it just wasn’t necessary to talk to my parents that often. They gave me plenty of freedom to live my own life and to explore and grow during those incredible years as I blossomed into an independent adult. Somehow, I figured out how to register for classes, study, eat, do laundry, meet new friends, get over breakups, and handle bad grades all on my own.

Nowadays, high school graduates enter college as children, incapable of taking care of themselves. According to Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How To Raise An Adult, overparenting and prolonged childhood are an epidemic in this country. As the Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University for 10 years, Lythcott-Haims witnessed firsthand some disturbing trends of college students. Although they were more successful on paper than ever before, with pages of accolades like awards, high test scores, leadership roles, varsity letters, overseas experiences, unique community service projects, etc., these students were also less familiar with who they were, and their own goals and dreams. So many of them appeared to be robot-like, blindly following the directions of their parents to participate in certain activities and take classes that would land them acceptance letters from the finest institutions possible.

She also noticed that these kids couldn’t do much for themselves and still relied on mom and dad to help them. They were constantly on the phone with their parents asking for advice and requesting that they take care of basic tasks like registering them for classes, sending them special packages, advising them on their homework, and even contacting professors if they did not receive the perfect grade.

How on earth will these young adults ever hold a job and function in the real world if they can’t take care of themselves during college?

We hear a lot about how millennials are difficult to work within the job market—self-entitled, narcissistic, lazy, and tough to manage.

Lythcott-Haims makes it very clear: we have no one to blame but ourselves. The patterns that lead to this detrimental behavior start right now, even if your kids are in Kindergarten. Are you one of these types of parents?

  • Over protective. You view the world as unsafe, scary, and unpredictable, so you do everything possible to protect your children instead of preparing them to learn how to handle life’s challenges themselves.
  • Tiger parent. You provide fierce direction to your kid, telling them that you know what’s best for them to achieve success in this world.
  • Excessive hand holder. You do everything for your kids to make life as pleasant as possible for them. You are their concierge, chauffeur, handler, scheduler, and secretary.

These helicopter parenting styles are impeding our children. So many parents today feel like their kids can’t be successful without them helping at every turn and hovering over them. They spend so much time planning, protecting, directing, and nagging that they are ultimately stunting their growth. We are taking away the ability for our children to learn self-efficacy, says Lythcott-Haims. This incredibly important skill is a fundamental aspect of the human psyche. It is when individuals realize that their own actions lead to outcomes that they have the power to direct their own lives. “If our children are to build self-efficacy, then they need to do more of the thinking, planning, deciding, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming, and experiencing life for themselves. We may ensure some short-term goals by over helping, but it comes as a long-term cost to their sense of self. We should be more concerned that they have the habits, skillset, mindset, and wellness to be successful no matter what their future holds,” she says.

This is worrisome because we all want our children to be able to function without us, to fulfill their dreams and live happy, healthy, successful lives.

By adjusting some of our parenting techniques now, we can better prepare our kids for a successful life ahead of them.

So, how can we stop doing everything for our kids? Here are some steps to get started on this whole new parenting perspective.

Stop Making Everything About You

Many parents try to live through their children because they are unsatisfied with their own childhood. They may even refer to their child’s grades and activities as “ours.” Learn to separate what’s yours from what’s theirs. We also have to stop trying to mold our kids into something they are not. We will all be much better off if we love our children for who they are and support them.

Teach Them New Skills

The only way our children will learn to do things for themselves is if we provide opportunities for them to learn new skills. This starts during pre-school when we ask our children to dress themselves and use a fork properly. With each new year, there are so many chances to help develop their skillset. The best way to teach our kids a new skill is to: 1) do it for them, 2) do it with them, 3) watch them do it on their own, and 4) let them do it on their own. Wouldn’t you rather gradually teach your kids and not have to cram everything in on the way to college move-in day?!

Let Them Fend for Themselves and Learn from Their Mistakes

It is so important that our children learn how to speak up for themselves and communicate with authority figures and peers alike. We have to stop trying to clean up all their messes for them and protect them from failure. The only way they will grow is if they make mistakes and learn how to handle them.

Give Your Kids Experiences

Even if it is totally out of your comfort zone, try to let your kids experience activities without you that will help them build self-confidence and independence. Sleepovers, all-day sports or other competitions, camping trips, and sleepaway camp are some good examples. Last summer, my son went off to sleepaway camp for four weeks, and it was very difficult for me. I cried for days worrying about him. But, you know what? When I saw him on visiting day, I was blown away by how happy he was and how mature he acted. I was petrified that he would pick up bad habits and become a rotten kid, but the opposite happened—he became an even more amazing version of himself.   

By adjusting some of our parenting techniques now, we can better prepare our kids for a successful life ahead of them.

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