Book Review: How to Raise an Adult, One of the Best Teen Parenting Books EVER!

My personal review of the life-changing book How to Raise an Adult, by Julie Lythcott-Haims. It’s a practical guide for parents to raise responsible and independent adults, helping them to become more mindful and avoid the trap of “overparenting”.

The book “How to Raise an Adult” was recommended reading when my daughter Mia was entering her freshman year of high school. The author, Julie Lythcott-Haims, was serving as a dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising at Stanford University. 

Lythcott-Haims had noticed an alarming trend of parents taking control of their students’ academic work, extracurricular activities and career choices – all in an effort to reduce the risk of their child’s failure or disappointment. The downside was that when students got to college, they were simply not prepared to handle the demands of adult life. 

Back then, my husband and I were heavily invested in doing things FOR our kids versus teaching them HOW to do things for themselves. I remember thinking to myself “No wonder we are exhausted!” 

How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-HaimsA Wakeup Call

There were so many “aha” moments for me when reading this book. Most importantly, it really helps provide perspective on how to foster independence in our kids.

Lythcott-Haims lists life skills that every child should have at different ages. Spoiler alert…our kids, who were in middle school at the time, lacked many of the skills she outlined. We realized that it was time to make a shift in our parenting style.

In addition to overparenting, we had also fallen into the trap of “overscheduling” our kids – signing them up for sports clubs and extracurricular activities. We had good intentions, but it contributed to all of us feeling frenzied and stressed.    

Benchmarks for Student Independence 

Here are a few things Lythcott-Haims suggests an 18-year-old should be able to do. She provides context for each of these things in the book. 

By 18, these kids must be able to:

  1. Talk to strangers
  2. Find their way around (a campus, city, etc)
  3. Manage their assignments, workloads and deadlines
  4. Contribute to running a household
  5. Handle interpersonal issues
  6. Cope with ups and downs
  7. Earn and manage money
  8. Take risks

She reminds us that our kids must be able to do these things without resorting to calling their parents. If they are calling to ask how to do it, they do not have that life skill!

Making Peace with Failure

The other big shift we made was getting more comfortable with the idea of “failure”. This is a tough one to embrace in our uber-competitive world. Julie has a great chapter on how to normalize this struggle, and how to build resilience and confidence. This includes:

  • Letting kids make choices and deciding how to do things – even if you perceive that they might fail
  • Allowing them to take risks and make mistakes 
  • Helping them grow from experience
  • Building their character 
  • Letting bad things happen 

Julie is an advocate of letting your kids experience mistakes and curveballs that would normally be painful and turning them into wisdom-building opportunities. 

Instead of trying to prevent painful things from happening, see them as growth-producing events. Much easier said than done!

My lovely kids!
My lovely kiddos in Vancouver B.C. for Mia’s end of school film gala.

How Things Changed (For Us) After Reading This Parenting Book

It wasn’t an overnight shift, but we took many of the lessons from this book to heart right away. The biggest change was being mindful of the need to “over parent” and instead to identify opportunities for the kids to learn for themselves. 

We focused more on teaching them basic life skills such as doing their own laundry and learning basic cooking skills (making their breakfast and preparing dinner). We had some funny experiences in the kitchen when they first started, including raw chicken piccata and flattened chicken using a glass olive oil bottle. Thankfully, no one ended up in the hospital from those early cooking experiments.  

We also eased up on monitoring grades. We told the kids that we were not going to check their grades unless they were struggling and wanted us to know. As long as they were focused on learning, we didn’t care about the grade. 

We also made a decision to stay out of the college application process. While we did do a couple of college campus tours as a family, we left the college application process up to Mia. She came to us when she needed help but otherwise, it was her responsibility and she owned it. 

How it’s Going Today

I’m happy to report that our oldest is thriving in college in Vancouver B.C. – she cooks her own meals, takes public transportation and is loving her studies. I honestly wasn’t prepared for how quickly she adapted to being on her own! But we are thrilled that she is able to live independently. 

Our youngest is in high school – we are by no means following the advice to a tee but he’s happy and enjoying his high school experience so far. He’s even traveled to Greece and Japan on his own!

If you do one thing in your teen parenting journey, I highly recommend you to read this book. It will open your eyes to the incredible value of stepping back and allowing kids to learn certain life lessons for themselves. 

You can learn more about Julie Lythcott-Haims on her website. She has a great Ted Talk, “How to Raise Successful Kids—Without Overparenting”. And of course, here’s the link to the book if you want to order a copy for yourself.

Thank you for reading.

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Danielle Cullivan

Career Insight Studio

Danielle Cullivan is a seasoned leader in tech with over 20 years of experience in Fortune 500 companies. She is also the creator of Career Insight Studio, a career and lifestyle blog dedicated to providing insights and new perspectives for working women. Danielle lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and high-school-aged son, and visits her college-age daughter as often as possible! 

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