When Julie Lythcott-Haims was dean of freshmen at Stanford, she saw troubling behavior from some of the most accomplished students in the country. Students would involve their parents — and parents would involve themselves — in every aspect of the student’s life and school work at a time when these young adults were supposed to exercise greater independence.

“Parents seemed to feel a need to talk with their college student, inform them about something, check in about something, know their whereabouts, ask, ‘How did that quiz go?’” said Lythcott-Haims. Sometimes the constant checking-in even seemed to verge on the unethical.

This parental behavior doesn’t start when kids head off to college, it begins long before: there’s the excessive help with school assignments and fighting with teachers over every grade. For many parents this type of advocacy feels necessary to ensure their child’s success, but Lythcott-Haims says normalizing over-parenting can lead young adults to experience an “existential impotence.” They end up feeling incapable of handling life’s challenges on their own.

On the latest episode of the MindShift Podcast, we discuss the tension between the parental need to help children get ahead in life, and the unintended consequences of those good intentions. In a hyper-competitive world, how do parents strike the right balance?

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

Author Julie Lythcott-Haims (Kristina Vetter)

Julie Lythcott-Haims is the author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success and Real American: A Memoir.

Stepping Back from Overparenting: A Stanford Dean’s Perspective 29 October,2017Ki Sung

  • kj lloyd

    From personal experience, the same over-parenting behavior is common not just among millenials, or any other generation, but also among certain cultures. Look at the variance in mother-son relationships across various cultures. Independence vs a detrimental enmeshment varies tremendously, from what I’ve seen and experienced.

  • gapaul

    Let’s quit having this conversation without any context, just so we can complain about parents.

    Families see what is happening in our economy. When getting a ticket to the safe, comfortable middle class — with good health care, retirement, and job security looks tough, parents grow determined to be sure their preschooler, tween, adolescent, then college student remain “competitive.” It may be a little over the top, but let’s face it, parents don’t operate in a vacuum. When the competition looks stiff, they try to make sure their kid won’t miss out. It is hella hard to get into Stanford. Once there, a parent may be able to relax, but all they’ve done is push to get to that point. Tell me how many kids who “failed and learned from it,” are admitted to Stanford every year. If the answer is “none,” then you might start to understand why parents act as they do.

    • V in SB

      Very few kids get into Stanford and the like without “overparenting.” lol

      • seenoevil

        Exactly, wonder if Stanford (and their peers) see their own contribution to this anxiety. She could be seeing some consequence of self selection. We’ve been going through this college process and it’s all a little crazy.

        We try to let our kids manage their academic careers, we’re not perfect at it but we do always try to check ourselves. Our typical thought process is to just talk with them about what happened when they go off track but we don’t get involved on grades that have already happened. They need to learn to look forward not back.

  • pixiedust8

    I have an elementary school-age child, and I’ve only seen this happen once (when someone got very upset about “bullying” that seemed like bullying only to that parent). I absolutely believe there is over-parenting, but I wonder if it’s more regional or something? My child is a G&T program but none of the parents seem to go overboard.


Ki Sung

Ki Sung is the senior editor of MindShift. Prior to joining MindShift in 2014, she was a digital news trainer at NPR.

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