The era of helicopter parenting is officially over, if this new crop of parenting books is any indication. Gone are the days of tracking your child’s every move and fighting her every battle.The focus now is on preparing children for the real world by letting them venture out and even—gasp!—make mistakes.
In How to Raise an Adult, former Stanford dean Julie Lythcott-Haims argues that we are so focused on our children that “what they eat, how they dress, what activities they pursue [and] what they achieve have be- come a reflection of us. Of how we see ourselves. Like their life is our accomplishment. Like their failures are our fault.”
In her years as Dean of Fresh- men at Stanford, Lythcott-Haims watched as parents encroached on their children’s collegiate pursuits, showing up for social events and contacting professors. She once saw a woman in her mid-20s walking around campus, looking for the engineering building. How did Lythcott-Haims know? Because the mother of this Ph.D. candidate was doing all the talking. It’s a wonder parents haven’t moved into the dorms.
How to Raise an Adult is a bit of a manifesto, and I mean that in the best way. Lay off the Adderall, stop fretting that the Ivy League is the only route to success and let your children have unstructured time to dream, play and do nothing. Raising an adult, Lythcott-Haims posits, means letting go.
With chapters titled “They’re Not Helpless” and “Overcontrol,” parenting expert Amy McCready makes clear starting with the table of contents that she finds overparenting to be underwhelm- ing. In The Me, Me, Me Epidemic, McCready, who founded Positive Parenting Solu- tions, dishes out advice in a crisply no-nonsense tone on everything from peer-pressure-proofing your kids to navigating social media.
“If we dish out empty praise and lavish rewards for the type of behavior that should be expected (such as not pitching a fit because we won’t buy them a new action figure or not making rude noises in a restaurant) we’re writing a recipe for an entitled child, one who thinks he takes ‘special to a whole new level,’ ” McCready writes. McCready offers tools she calls “Un-Entitlers,” which are like vitamins to instill capability in children. My favorite is Mind, Body and Soul Time, in which parents give an uninterrupted 10 or 20 minutes to their children and let the kids choose what they do together. It’s simple and surprisingly effective.
LIVE AND LEARN
I have a son entering middle school this fall, so The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey was a gift to me. With common-sense advice on how to stand back and let your children learn through their mistakes—including an entire chapter on navigating the hormone-drenched middle school years—this book is one of my new favorite parenting manuals.
Lahey is a warm, engaging writer who spent years in the trenches as a middle school Latin and English teacher. She advocates a lovingly hands-off approach that instills confidence from an early age.
“As adults we all have our own bullies to deal with: mean bosses, vicious enemies, and jealous peers,” she writes. “How your kid learns to deal with those people in their childhood, when failure means a day or two of hurt feelings or social exclusion, can mean the difference between a thin skin and a strong sense of self.”
TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS
Forget gimmicky baby toys—all your child really needs is you. Vanderbilt University child development researcher Stephen Camarata offers an antidote to all the products marketed to guilt-rid- den parents in The Intuitive Parent. “What does a baby really need to know?” he writes. “That his parents love him, will take care of him, and will encourage him and empower him to learn. This does not require special videos, special toys, special DVDs or computer programs.”
Camarata starts with a fascinating section on the science behind child development. (How many au- thors can make something called brain plasticity interesting? Very few.) Then it gets even better, as Camarata lays out his case for why parents need not obsess over every developmental milestone, instead focusing on what he calls intuitive parenting, simply enjoying your child and reacting to his activities. The father of seven children, Camarata blends research and experience to create a parenting book that lets parents off the hook.
The co-authors of Raising Can-Do Kids are perhaps an unlikely duo—Jen Prosek is a public relations executive and Richard Rende is a developmental psychologist. But the partnership works. Raising Can-Do Kids is both interesting and actionable, written from the points of view of someone who under- stands development and someone else who understands what skills it takes to make a great entrepreneur. Together, they identify seven traits that entrepreneurs need (curiosity and risk-taking are among them) and show parents how to cultivate these qualities in their children.
Perhaps most intriguing is their exploration of snowplow parents, who are apparently helicopter parents on steroids. As they write, snowplow parents “don’t just try to control a child’s environment and experiences but overtly eliminate perceived obstacles in a child’s path. Requesting that a specific child not be in your child’s class is one thing; demanding to review the class roster is quite another.” Makes that Stanford mom seem almost reasonable, doesn’t it?
RELATED CONTENT: Read a Q&A with Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How To Raise an Adult.