Dear Flint Hill School Family,
I was pleased to see a strong turnout of parents join us last Wednesday night, when Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the book “How To Raise An Adult,” spoke to approximately 150 parents in the Olson Theater. Parenting is one of the most demanding yet rewarding things we will ever do in our lives. Her inspiring talk allowed us all to reflect on the decisions we make as parents on a daily basis and the ultimate outcomes that may develop from those decisions. We did hear that some Upper School parents did not attend because they figured their job was done. The reality is that the author developed the concepts for her book while serving as the Dean of the Freshman Class at Stanford University. She shared that there are decisions that can still be made at the college level, and beyond, that will help our children become resilient, independent and confident members of our society as they move into adulthood. In other words, it is never too soon or too late to reflect on our role as parents.
Her frightening premise was that too many students have gotten used to the idea of their parents doing everything for them and that they never have to do anything themselves. At one point, she noted, “Too many students are doing as little as they can get away with, while we, as parents, are doing all that we can to support them.” While many of the scenarios Lythcott-Haims described seem normal, the need for change was clear. There were plenty of laughs that erupted during her engaging talk, both from stories that seemed over the top and stories that hit close to home.
To summarize, the premise of her talk was that in order for us to help our children shape their dreams and hopes for the future, they really need to own their experiences. We want our children to get the message that they can do things without us, and we must understand that one of our jobs as parents is to “put ourselves out of a job” as parents. We need to let our children become themselves, to know their own strengths and weaknesses, and to strike a balance between supporting our children and cheering them on and stepping back to watch them.
It was a very healthy discussion. Lythcott-Haims also noted that much of the pressure parents feel about our children’s success is driven by fear — fear of not going to colleges that will impress others and fear that our children really can’t do it without us. This was a sad commentary on the culture that has developed in our country, but one that we can and must address. She even offered feedback that students have given her as part of her research. Among them were:
- “The brand name of a college is not as important as parents think.”
- “Could you start believing in me and stop comparing me to others?”
Ultimately, she suggested a few tips that parents can use to help their children grow into capable, confident adults:
- Assign chores to your children. Lythcott-Haims felt strongly that children need to have direct responsibilities at home and that we should be unapologetic in expecting our children to take on these opportunities. Too often, we hire others to cut the yard and clean up at home, but somehow, our children need to own chores at home. Lythcott-Haims notes that “doing” for the family is key for children to gain the awareness that hard work, time management and shared responsibilities lead to the critical lifelong traits of grit, perseverance and resilience.
- Keep the college process in perspective. Her view is that the drive for acceptance to the “right name” college is what has led too many parents to become overly involved in their children’s lives. This kind of focus only breeds high anxiety and a fear of failure. The reality is that by focusing on a narrow list of “acceptable” school choices for our children, we can lose sight of options that may actually be a better fit.
- Let our kids be kids. From the earliest ages, it is critical to let children play. Let them learn how to have free play with others, create games and enjoy themselves. Lythcott-Haims is a strong advocate of children playing with Legos and other manipulatives. The freedom to just be who they are — not who we want them to be — ultimately allows them to develop responsibility, accountability and the ability to do their best without our supervision. She strongly urges that great schools like Flint Hill do our role to support that process as well.
“How to Raise an Adult” is an interesting read with plenty of examples to support Lythcott-Haims’ premises and an excellent overview of much of the current literature about children. Lythcott-Haims moved beyond the concepts of “helicopter parents” and “snowplow parents” and got to the core of us needing to ask our children to be children and for us to be parents. It is a good reminder and a strong reinforcement of best practices in parenting today. Her talk was exceptional, and I highly endorse her book as well.
Julie Lythcott-Haims was not the only speaker on campus last week. Our Upper School recently hosted Jacy Good and Steve Johnson, who gave a talk on “Hang Up and Drive.” This was a very personal talk about the dangers of texting and/or using a cell phone while driving. On October 14, our Seventh Grade girls worked with Trish Ottaviano, author of “Girl World: How to Ditch the Drama and Find Your Inner Amazing,” and the founder of the non-profit organization Sister Soldier. Ms. Ottaviano focused on empowering girls with kindness, self-love and acceptance, ultimately changing the way they view themselves and view each other. In the Lower School, our parents had the opportunity to hear about child abuse, appropriate touch with children, and expectations for speaking to our children on these matters. Iris Beckwith, President of ConnectED4safety, was here to deliver a speech, “Speak Up and Be Safe.”
When we talk about added value at school, those are the types of activities that take place here on a regular basis. They go well beyond “reading, writing and arithmetic.” We are partners in raising and educating our children. That means stepping out of our own comfort zones at times to listen, reflect and learn about our role as parents, and to be assured that the School is doing all it can to support and educate our children on topics that range far beyond the classroom.
We hope to see you at one of our upcoming events, especially this weekend at Homecoming! Please join us on Friday night at the Powder Puff game and bonfire, and again on Saturday for activities, good food and games for all ages.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas