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Parenting is one of those fickle tasks in which moms and dads may have good intentions but bad instincts.
Julie Lythcott-Haims, a former Stanford dean and author of “How to Raise an Adult,” explains that parents too often make the mistake of putting out every fire in their child’s life, instead of turning minor failures into teachable moments.
Case in point: Homework.
Lythcott-Haims explains that when kids forget their homework at home or in their locker, parents often agree to drive back to recover or drop off the forgotten assignment. (If it’s not a homework assignment, it’s a coat or a bagged lunch.)
Bad move all the way around, Lythcott-Haims says.
“The kid needs to learn to remember the homework, the lunch, or the coat,” she explains. And they only learn that lesson “if they suffer the small bit of pain from having forgotten.”
If kids forget their homework on the kitchen table, they learn the sting of getting a zero on the assignment. If they forget their coat in their locker, they learn the discomfort of a bitter chill. If they forget their lunch, they either learn the embarrassment of asking for food, or they go hungry.
That suffering is in the service of a larger goal: to create a responsible adult.
“You’re raising the people your kids will become,” she says.
Some research suggests that parents who ignore Lythcott-Haims’ advice could be putting their children at risk for long-term setbacks. In her book, she points to several studies that show a strong correlation between a rise in helicopter parenting and rates of mental-health issues on college campuses – elite universities in particular.
“The data emerging about the mental health of our kids only confirms the harm done by asking so little of them when it comes to life skills,” Lythcott-Haims writes, “yet so much of them when it comes to adhering to the academic plans we’ve made for them.”
Of course, parents who drive back and forth to their child’s school aren’t directly setting their kids up for this kind of long-term damage. But if an 18-year-old freshman never learned to be self-sufficient as a child, the culmination of those tiny acts could make them feel helpless and ill-equipped in adulthood.