A former dean of freshmen at Stanford, from 2002 to 2012, and the author of “How to Raise an Adult,” Lythcott-Haims has seen time and again that sheltered kids don’t make for capable adults.
She has built a career on encouraging parents to take a more hands-off approach, favoring tough love instead of protecting kids from the big, scary world.
Here are some of the broad strategies she’s outlined for how to get there.
Be authoritative, not authoritarian
There are three widely accepted styles of parenting, according to developmental psychologists: permissive, authoritarian, and authoritative.
The first two are no good. Permissive parents become their child’s friend and fail to establish healthy boundaries. Authoritarian parents rule with an iron fist, which can fill kids with self-doubt and bruise their psyches.
Authoritative parents are the ideal, Lythcott-Haims claims. They show love and affection but still enforce rules and set high expectations for their kids. Kids more often emerge with strong identities and high self-esteems.
Make them do their chores
An 80-year study called the Harvard Grant Study has found the single biggest predictor of a person’s success is whether they did chores as a child. Lythcott-Haims doesn’t take these findings lightly.
“If kids aren’t doing the dishes, it means someone else is doing that for them,” she told Business Insider. “And so they’re absolved of not only the work, but of learning that work has to be done and that each one of us must contribute for the of the whole.”
Chores instill in kids the attitude that life is about teamwork and cooperation, and that a clean, tidy living space doesn’t just happen by magic.
Let your kids forget their homework
Part of giving your child extra space is affording them the room to fail — in ways both small and large.
Lythcott-Haims uses the example of a parent who discovers their child left his homework at home. Some parents might have the instinct to rush the assignments to school, lest the child get a bad grade.
But Lythcott-Haims says parents should use the opportunity to teach their kids the importance of responsibility and staying organized. Mom and Dad won’t always be there to save the day.
Encourage kids to take risks
Being able to fail more broadly is essentially what it means to take risks.
In a recent Quora thread, Lythcott-Haims noted that all kids should feel comfortable taking risks by the time they’re 18. Otherwise, they may never fully appreciate how much they can get out of life by leaving their comfort zone.
“Our kids must be able to do all of these things without resorting to calling a parent on the phone,” she wrote. “If they’re calling us to ask how, they do not have the life skill.”
Help your kids develop a sense of direction
Capable adults know how to navigate their surroundings, Lythcott-Haims noted in her Quora response. If they’re outside their immediate neighborhood, they at least know how to use road signs and negotiate in traffic to get where the app on their phone says to go.
“We drive or accompany our children everywhere, even when a bus, their bicycle, or their own feet could get them there,” she wrote. “Thus, kids don’t know the route for getting from here to there.”
Parents of successful kids recognize that a healthy sense of direction can (literally) take you far in life.
Prepare them for a world of assignments and deadlines
It’s assumed parents will handle their kids’ soccer practices, birthday parties, and meal times.
“We remind kids when their homework is due and when to do it — sometimes helping them do it, sometimes doing it for them,” she said. “Thus, kids don’t know how to prioritize tasks, manage workload, or meet deadlines, without regular reminders.”
By age 18, however, Lythcott-Haims said these responsibilities must shift to the child. Knowing how to fit people into your schedule and manage their expectations based on your own plans is a crucial skill of adulthood.
Teach them how to earn and manage money
In addition to juggling schedules, adults also have the unique responsibility of juggling their finances. Even if kids don’t have jobs yet, Lythcott-Haims says it’s worth parents instilling in kids a sense of fiscal savviness.
It’s the old chestnut of teaching kids the value of a dollar. But it’s also teaching them the value of having a dollar saved up, invested, or spent on essential items — all stemming from having a boss “who doesn’t inherently love them.”