How to raise successful kids — without over-parenting | Julie Lythcott-Haims

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  • August 30, 2018
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Transcript

You know, I didn’t set out to be a parenting expert.
00:16
In fact, I’m not very interested in parenting, per Se.
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It’s just that there’s a certain style of parenting these days
00:25
that is kind of messing up kids,
00:28
impeding their chances to develop into theirselves.
00:33
There’s a certain style of parenting these days
00:35
that’s getting in the way.
00:36
I guess what I’m saying is,
00:38
we spend a lot of time being very concerned
00:40
about parents who aren’t involved enough in the lives of their kids
00:44
and their education or their upbringing,
00:46
and rightly so.
00:48
But at the other end of the spectrum,
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there’s a lot of harm going on there as well,
00:53
where parents feel a kid can’t be successful
00:56
unless the parent is protecting and preventing at every turn
01:00
and hovering over every happening, and micromanaging every moment,
01:03
and steering their kid towards some small subset of colleges and careers.
01:10
When we raise kids this way,
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and I’ll say we,
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because Lord knows, in raising my two teenagers,
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I’ve had these tendencies myself,
01:20
our kids end up leading a kind of checklisted childhood.
01:25
And here’s what the checklisted childhood looks like.
01:27
We keep them safe and sound
01:30
and fed and watered,
01:33
and then we want to be sure they go to the right schools,
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that they’re in the right classes at the right schools,
01:38
and that they get the right grades in the right classes in the right schools.
01:42
But not just the grades, the scores,
01:44
and not just the grades and scores, but the accolades and the awards
01:47
and the sports, the activities, the leadership.
01:49
We tell our kids, don’t just join a club,
01:51
start a club, because colleges want to see that.
01:53
And check the box for community service.
01:55
I mean, show the colleges you care about others.
01:58
(Laughter)
02:00
And all of this is done to some hoped-for degree of perfection.
02:05
We expect our kids to perform at a level of perfection
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we were never asked to perform at ourselves,
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and so because so much is required,
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we think,
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well then, of course we parents have to argue with every teacher
02:17
and principal and coach and referee
02:20
and act like our kid’s concierge
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and personal handler
02:25
and secretary.
02:27
And then with our kids, our precious kids,
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we spend so much time nudging,
02:32
cajoling, hinting, helping, haggling, nagging as the case may be,
02:36
to be sure they’re not screwing up,
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not closing doors,
02:41
not ruining their future,
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some hoped-for admission
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to a tiny handful of colleges
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that deny almost every applicant.
02:54
And here’s what it feels like to be a kid in this checklisted childhood.
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First of all, there’s no time for free play.
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There’s no room in the afternoons,
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because everything has to be enriching, we think.
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It’s as if every piece of homework, every quiz, every activity
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is a make-or-break moment for this future we have in mind for them,
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and we absolve them of helping out around the house,
03:18
and we even absolve them of getting enough sleep
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as long as they’re checking off the items on their checklist.
03:26
And in the checklisted childhood, we say we just want them to be happy,
03:30
but when they come home from school,
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what we ask about all too often first
03:35
is their homework and their grades.
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And they see in our faces
03:40
that our approval, that our love,
03:43
that their very worth,
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comes from A’s.
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And then we walk alongside them
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and offer clucking praise like a trainer at the Westminster Dog Show —
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(Laughter)
03:55
coaxing them to just jump a little higher and soar a little farther,
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day after day after day.
04:03
And when they get to high school,
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they don’t say, “Well, what might I be interested in studying
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or doing as an activity?”
04:09
They go to counselors and they say,
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“What do I need to do to get into the right college?”
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And then, when the grades start to roll in in high school,
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and they’re getting some B’s,
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or God forbid some C’s,
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they frantically text their friends
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and say, “Has anyone ever gotten into the right college with these grades?”
04:29
And our kids,
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regardless of where they end up at the end of high school,
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they’re breathless.
04:37
They’re brittle.
04:38
They’re a little burned out.
04:40
They’re a little old before their time,
04:42
wishing the grown-ups in their lives had said, “What you’ve done is enough,
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this effort you’ve put forth in childhood is enough.”
04:49
And they’re withering now under high rates of anxiety and depression
04:53
and some of them are wondering,
04:55
will this life ever turn out to have been worth it?
05:01
Well, we parents,
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we parents are pretty sure it’s all worth it.
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We seem to behave —
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it’s like we literally think they will have no future
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if they don’t get into one of these tiny set of colleges or careers
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we have in mind for them.
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Or maybe, maybe, we’re just afraid
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they won’t have a future we can brag about
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to our friends and with stickers on the backs of our cars.
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Yeah.
05:30
(Applause)
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But if you look at what we’ve done,
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if you have the courage to really look at it,
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you’ll see that not only do our kids think their worth comes
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from grades and scores,
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but that when we live right up inside their precious developing minds
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all the time, like our very own version of the movie “Being John Malkovich,”
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we send our children the message:
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“Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.”
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And so with our overhelp,
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our overprotection and overdirection and hand-holding,
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we deprive our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy,
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which is a really fundamental tenet of the human psyche,
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far more important than that self-esteem they get
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every time we applaud.
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Self-efficacy is built when one sees that one’s own actions lead to outcomes,
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not —
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There you go.
06:29
(Applause)
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Not one’s parents’ actions on one’s behalf,
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but when one’s own actions lead to outcomes.
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So simply put,
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if our children are to develop self-efficacy, and they must,
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then they have to do a whole lot more of the thinking, planning, deciding,
06:51
doing, hoping, coping, trial and error,
06:55
dreaming and experiencing of life
06:58
for themselves.
07:01
Now, am I saying
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every kid is hard-working and motivated
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and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives,
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and we should just back off and let go?
07:12
Hell no.
07:13
(Laughter)
07:14
That is not what I’m saying.
07:16
What I’m saying is, when we treat grades and scores and accolades and awards
07:19
as the purpose of childhood,
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all in furtherance of some hoped-for admission to a tiny number of colleges
07:25
or entrance to a small number of careers,
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that that’s too narrow a definition of success for our kids.
07:33
And even though we might help them achieve some short-term wins
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by overhelping —
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like they get a better grade if we help them do their homework,
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they might end up with a longer childhood résumé when we help —
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what I’m saying is that all of this comes at a long-term cost
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to their sense of self.
07:52
What I’m saying is, we should be less concerned
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with the specific set of colleges
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they might be able to apply to or might get into
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and far more concerned that they have the habits, the mindset, the skill set,
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the wellness, to be successful wherever they go.
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What I’m saying is,
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our kids need us to be a little less obsessed with grades and scores
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and a whole lot more interested
08:18
in childhood providing a foundation for their success
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built on things like love
08:27
and chores.
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(Laughter)
08:30
(Applause)
08:35
Did I just say chores? Did I just say chores? I really did.
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But really, here’s why.
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The longest longitudinal study of humans ever conducted
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is called the Harvard Grant Study.
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It found that professional success in life,
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which is what we want for our kids,
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that professional success in life comes from having done chores as a kid,
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and the earlier you started, the better,
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that a roll-up-your-sleeves- and-pitch-in mindset,
09:02
a mindset that says, there’s some unpleasant work,
09:04
someone’s got to do it, it might as well be me,
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a mindset that says,
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I will contribute my effort to the betterment of the whole,
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that that’s what gets you ahead in the workplace.
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Now, we all know this. You know this.
09:17
(Applause)
09:20
We all know this, and yet, in the checklisted childhood,
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we absolve our kids of doing the work of chores around the house,
09:27
and then they end up as young adults in the workplace
09:30
still waiting for a checklist,
09:32
but it doesn’t exist,
09:33
and more importantly, lacking the impulse, the instinct
09:37
to roll up their sleeves and pitch in
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and look around and wonder, how can I be useful to my colleagues?
09:43
How can I anticipate a few steps ahead to what my boss might need?
09:48
A second very important finding from the Harvard Grant Study
09:52
said that happiness in life
09:55
comes from love,
09:57
not love of work,
09:59
love of humans:
10:02
our spouse, our partner, our friends, our family.
10:06
So childhood needs to teach our kids how to love,
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and they can’t love others if they don’t first love themselves,
10:13
and they won’t love themselves if we can’t offer them unconditional love.
10:17
(Applause)
10:21
Right.
10:24
And so,
10:26
instead of being obsessed with grades and scores
10:28
when our precious offspring come home from school,
10:31
or we come home from work,
10:32
we need to close our technology, put away our phones,
10:35
and look them in the eye
10:36
and let them see the joy that fills our faces
10:40
when we see our child for the first time in a few hours.
10:43
And then we have to say,
10:45
“How was your day?
10:47
What did you like about today?”
10:50
And when your teenage daughter says, “Lunch,” like mine did,
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and I want to hear about the math test,
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not lunch,
10:57
you have to still take an interest in lunch.
11:01
You gotta say, “What was great about lunch today?”
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They need to know they matter to us as humans,
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not because of their GPA.
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All right, so you’re thinking, chores and love,
11:13
that sounds all well and good, but give me a break.
11:16
The colleges want to see top scores and grades
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and accolades and awards, and I’m going to tell you, sort of.
11:25
The very biggest brand-name schools are asking that of our young adults,
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but here’s the good news.
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Contrary to what the college rankings racket would have us believe —
11:38
(Applause)
11:44
you don’t have to go to one of the biggest brand name schools
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to be happy and successful in life.
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Happy and successful people went to state school,
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went to a small college no one has heard of,
11:53
went to community college,
11:55
went to a college over here and flunked out.
11:58
(Applause)
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The evidence is in this room, is in our communities,
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that this is the truth.
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And if we could widen our blinders
12:11
and be willing to look at a few more colleges,
12:13
maybe remove our own egos from the equation,
12:17
we could accept and embrace this truth and then realize,
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it is hardly the end of the world
12:23
if our kids don’t go to one of those big brand-name schools.
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And more importantly,
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if their childhood has not been lived according to a tyrannical checklist
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then when they get to college,
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whichever one it is,
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well, they’ll have gone there on their own volition,
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fueled by their own desire,
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capable and ready to thrive there.
12:49
I have to admit something to you.
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I’ve got two kids I mentioned, Sawyer and Avery.
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They’re teenagers.
12:56
And once upon a time,
12:58
I think I was treating my Sawyer and Avery
13:01
like little bonsai trees —
13:02
(Laughter)
13:05
that I was going to carefully clip and prune
13:08
and shape into some perfect form of a human
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that might just be perfect enough to warrant them admission
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to one of the most highly selective colleges.
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But I’ve come to realize, after working with thousands of other people’s kids —
13:23
(Laughter)
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and raising two kids of my own,
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my kids aren’t bonsai trees.
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They’re wildflowers
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of an unknown genus and species —
13:39
(Laughter)
13:41
and it’s my job to provide a nourishing environment,
13:44
to strengthen them through chores
13:47
and to love them so they can love others and receive love
13:51
and the college, the major, the career,
13:54
that’s up to them.
13:56
My job is not to make them become what I would have them become,
14:01
but to support them in becoming their glorious selves.
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Thank you.
14:08
(Applause)