How to Raise—And Become—an Adult: Three Sessions With Julie Lythcott-Haims

“A parent’s job is to put oneself out of a job,” exhorted Julie Lythcott-Haims, who visited Roxbury Latin on August 31. Presenting three sessions over the course of the day—in a workshop with faculty and staff, in Hall with students, and in an evening session with parents in the Smith Theater—Ms. Lythcott-Haims had a consistent message: Young people must develop agency, resilience, and character in order to thrive as adults, and the American trend of overparenting is preventing them from doing so. And the harm that causes is significant.

Ms. Lythcott-Haims is the New York Times bestselling author of How to Raise an Adult, which gave rise to a popular TED Talk that has been viewed millions of times. Her second book is the critically-acclaimed and award-winning prose poetry memoir Real American, which illustrates her experience as a Black and biracial person in white spaces; and her third book, Your Turn: How to Be an Adult, has been called a “groundbreakingly frank” guide to adulthood.

Ms. Lythcott-Haims served as the Dean of Freshmen and Undergraduate Advising at Stanford University for over a decade, and many of the observations, stories, and insights she writes about—and shared with the RL community—stem from that work, in addition to her experience parenting her own son and daughter.

In sessions with the adults, Ms. Lythcott-Haims described three styles of overparenting that undermine young people’s ability to be, do, give, and feel their best: The overprotective parent—who prevents their children from having to do or deal with hard things, who curates their life experiences for them; the fierce director parent—who dictates what choices (classes, activities, careers) are acceptable and which aren’t; and the “concierge” parent—who caters to their child’s every logistical and personal need, from managing their schedules to doing their homework.

“I saw that more and more students were arriving at Stanford’s campus fragile, brittle, and exhausted,” Mrs. Lythcott-Haims described. “They didn’t know how to do any of the things that we have traditionally expected college students to be capable of—from waking themselves up on time for class, to advocating for themselves, to choosing classes, activities and majors that excited them.” She went on to describe how conversations with some of her Stanford students woke her up to these same mistakes she was making in her own parenting, and the negative effects they were having on her children.

In her books—and in her presentations—Ms. Lythcott-Haims offers very practical advice about how to break free from the overparenting trap, and how to support young people as they develop the agency to know that their actions have meaning and outcomes; the resilience to know that they can cope and handle hard things when hard things inevitably come their way; and the character to know that other people matter as much as they matter, and to treat others with the kindness and dignity they deserve.