How to Raise an Adult - Julie Lythcott Summary and Review

by Julie Lythcott-Haims
  Has How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott-Haims been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. One of the biggest events in our lives is having children and it’s perfectly normal to want to give our children everything they need and to ensure that they have a good life. However, as you will learn from our summary, Julie Lythcott-Haims claims that our eagerness to support our children and to help them has spun out of control. Our exaggerated care has lead to a type of parenting that does more harm than good as it does not prepare the children for their adult lives. Now is the time to do things differently and to start focusing on raising functional adults. In this summary of Julie Lythcott-Haims’ How to Raise Adults, we’ll discuss:
  • why you should never tell your kids that they can achieve everything they want;
  • how overparenting is among the leading causes of substance abuse; and
  • what growing up actually means.

HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT CHAPTER #1: Too much parenting can have a negative effect on your kids.

When it comes to raising our children, it is important to understand that “too much of a good thing” can have negative consequences. Parents that are overeager, also known as helicopter parents, seem to have a special ability to be everywhere. The term was first used in the 1990s and it is perfect to describe the parents who hover over their kids constantly watching their every move instead of raising them to be independent and self-sufficient. Today, helicopter parenting has become the norm and that is not good news. At all. To understand the phenomena of helicopter parenting we need to take a look at the 1981 kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh, a six-year-old boy. His unfortunate story became so popular that it was even made into a movie. This contributed to the spreading of fear among U.S. parents who, all of a sudden, changed their parenting style completely. Because they were terrified that something bad might happen to their children, parents stopped preparing them for their adult lives and switched to protecting them from it. There are many things that parents worry about such as illnesses, accidents, strangers because these things can be disastrous for kids. But, more often than not, these fears are irrational and exacerbated. Statistically, children are more likely to die in equestrian accidents than to be abducted. But helicopter parents are not motivated exclusively by fear. They also hope that this type of parenting will be beneficial for their children’s future. That’s why managing the children’s extracurricular activities and ensuring that every hour is spent wisely has become extremely common. Sure, oftentimes, children who have helicopter parents have good results in school and can go on and have successful careers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are prepared for adult life. Additionally, helicopter parenting is, for parents, a means to an end: they see it as a way of achieving something important. But just because something seems necessary for the parents, that doesn’t mean that it will be beneficial for the children. One important aspect that makes people become helicopter parents consists of a deep mistrust towards the system. A lot of parents feel that schools are not effective enough and decide to step in and compensate. As a result, they become overinvolved. Parents also want to ensure that their kids will be accepted into the best colleges, and this goal can also make them have extreme behavior. There are even parents who would go as far as to hire lawyers if they get the idea that their kids got a smaller grade than they deserved. It is very important to mention that we are not arguing that looking out for your children is a bad thing. But helicopter parents will generally do much more than that and take their care for the kids’ wellbeing too far. Read the following chapter to learn about the negative consequences of helicopter parenting.

HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT CHAPTER #2: A lot of young people who suffer from substance abuse and psychological problems are the result of overparenting.

For kids to become functional adults, it is important that they learn basic life skills such as managing deadlines and commitments, taking care of a household, and how to talk to strangers. Unfortunately, a lot of kids who were raised by helicopter parents never learn these important skills and are completely unprepared for college life. But sometimes the negative consequences of helicopter parenting are extremely severe and difficult to correct than learning how to make your own bed. For one, children who are raised by helicopter parents are more likely to develop psychological problems. According to a study conducted by the American College Health Association in 2013, more than 80 percent of all college freshmen are stressed out and that their college obligations are overwhelming, and 8 percent have admitted that they considered suicide. Of course, we can’t blame all these issues on overparenting alone. But this common type of parenting certainly plays a role in making children less prepared to live alone and less able to cope with responsibilities and hardships. When overeager parents do everything for their children, the children never get the chance to learn how to trust their abilities and take matters into their own hands. One huge part of the problem is that a lot of parents avoid sharing the daily problems that they have with their kids and only focus on sharing positive things and successes. As a result, the children grow up with unrealistic expectations and, when faced with a real problem, are completely unequipped and become stressed. Combine this intellectual and emotional immaturity with a lack of resilience and what you get is a recipe for disaster. Stress can quickly develop into psychological affections which will most likely be overmedicated, in order to ensure that the kids’ performances will not be affected. In fact, more than 10 percent of American kids have received an ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) diagnosis and more than 6 percent have received medication. This overdiagnosis is owed in part to the fact that kids who suffer from this affection get extra time on tests. They also get medication that helps them focus and boosts performances. As a result, parents can be excessively eager to treat their kids of ADHD and to medicate them. The medications that are prescribed for ADHD are also used by a lot of college students illicitly to improve their performance. For some, these drugs are their only solution when faced with unrealistic expectations.

HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT CHAPTER #3: Kids who had overeager parents might have a more difficult time finding a job later in life.

Overparenting is not just harmful short-term, but also long-term. The parenting techniques of helicopter parents can affect the kids’ early life and can also stretch far into their adult lives. For instance, adults who had helicopter parents seem to have fewer job opportunities. Most employers will look for mature candidates who can make decisions, take risks, and show perseverance to get things done. Of course, in order to have these qualities, people need to be independent, and overparenting prevents them from being just that. It is not uncommon for overeager parents to try to interfere with their children’s jobs, to call in favors, and to try to talk to the boss whenever there’s a problem. But once their children become adults and get a job, the only role way that a parent can help is by showing moral support. Overparenting is not harmful just for kids but for parents too. Helicopter parents who are obsessed with ensuring that nothing goes wrong and who are always focusing on controlling the kids will often become depressed, stressed, and exhausted. They will also feel that they are never doing enough and that something bad might happen if they look away. It is also common for the parent’s ego to be transferred onto the children and the way the children dress, what they study, their career choices can become just reflections of their parents’ goals. When parents transfer their ego onto their children, they strive to be involved as much as possible. They can’t risk giving their children freedom because if the child becomes independent, the parent’s personal goals might not be accomplished. One of the culprits for the parents’ hyper-involvement in their children’s lives might be the deeply flawed and problematic higher-education system.   Because certain colleges are considered much better than others, all students want to get into the same handful of colleges. Thus, the exams become more difficult and the test scores need to be perfect. The line between the students who get in and those who don’t is extremely thin and more often than not, it is just about the students’ ability to focus on the exam rather than about their raw intelligence. Furthermore, helicopter parents are sometimes obsessed with their kids' grades and their SAT scores. This obsession is fundamentally misguided. SAT scores are more useful to indicate children’s socioeconomic status than their intelligence and cognitive ability. In other words, students who don’t have to work in their free time and whose parents can afford SAT prep will always get the best scores. In conclusion, the SATs do not reflect whether the children are ready for college or not or whether they are intelligent enough for a certain college. So far, we have discussed the wrong aspects of parenting. The following chapters will focus on how to improve our parenting strategies and how to prepare our children for success.

HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT CHAPTER #4: Being an authoritative parent is a good thing, but being an authoritarian parent is not.

What would you say your parenting techniques are? We all like to think that our parenting style is unique and optimal and that we know how to raise our children best. But it might be good to know that there are four main types of parenting methods. The first type of parenting is authoritarian. Parents who opt for this parenting style are often very strict, expect their children to be obedient and to show respect. These parents don’t like to give reasons for their orders and actions and their parenting is often unresponsive and demanding.   The permissive/indulgent parenting style takes a different approach. Parents who are permissive/indulgent will often give their children everything they want and comply with every whim and request. It can be very difficult for these parents to control their children and to establish rules as they are responsive and undemanding. Another type of parenting is known as neglectful parenting. This might be worse than the first two parenting styles. These parents generally disinterested and don’t get involved in their children’s lives. They are physically and emotionally distant or even absent. These parents are also undemanding, but they can also be unresponsive to their children’s needs. The fourth style and the most effective one is called authoritative parenting. Parents who are authoritative should also be responsive and present. Authoritative parents have high expectations and set high standards for their children. They know how to offer emotional support and how to be respected at the same time and they are responsive to their children’s needs without spoiling them. Moreover, parents who opt for this parenting style trust their children, they give them the freedom to make decisions and to explore, and allow them to suffer the consequences. In other words, this style of parenting is a combination between the indulgent and authoritarian styles. Authoritative parents focus on enforcing rules but always explain the reasons behind these rules. Because children will understand why they need to follow certain rules, they will be more responsive and more obedient. Additionally, authoritative parents treat their kids as rational, independent beings, and while they are always involved in the children’s lives, they are not overprotective and they accept mistakes and imperfections. If your goal is to raise independent young adults who understand life and can overcome any difficulties, you should strive to be an authoritative parent.

HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT CHAPTER #5: Good parents teach their kids that it is important to work hard without losing sight leisure time.

Children’s needs change over the course of their lives, but it is extremely important to be allowed to play and to have a normal childhood. For children, playtime is essential and it should be spontaneous and unstructured. Playtime is an opportunity for children to explore, to make decisions, to try new things, to observe the world around them, and to test different hypotheses. In order for them to be able to play, they require a certain degree of independence and freedom. It is a well-known fact that children will often look up to their parents as role models. So, it is extremely important for parents to show their kids that hanging out with friends, relaxing, and playing is an important part of life. Leisure time is not only important in early childhood but in later childhood as well and games are a great way to develop competencies and to build skills. Some schools that have a modern approach have started to incorporate games and play into their daily curriculum. But child development is more than just playtime. It is very important for children to understand the importance of hard work. Traditional schools focus more on teaching children facts and giving them information, without paying too much attention to critical, independent thinking. So, “doing well” in school shouldn’t be the parents’ main goal for their children, but rather to be able to think for themselves, to analyze and to make connections. Simply imparting your wisdom and knowledge to your children might be tempting, it is not a good choice. Parents should resist the urge to do so and instead, to focus on engaging their children in dialogue and to encourage them to have opinions. It is important for children to be able to speak for themselves at home, in school, and in other social situations as this is the only way in which they will learn how to use their reason and perspective. Last but not least, telling children that they can achieve everything they want is a common mistake that parents make. Children should learn that in order to achieve their dreams, they need to work hard, and even if they do, success is not guaranteed. These concepts can easily be taught by giving children chores and other responsibilities. By doing chores, they will learn that work can sometimes be done for the benefit of others, and not just for oneself. As a result, they will learn about perseverance, autonomy, accountability, and they will see the results of hard work.

HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT CHAPTER #6: Parents who truly listen to their kids also help them find their own path.

Parents must understand that their children’s purpose is not to walk a path that was chosen for them. In reality, children are individuals with unique and personal aspirations, interests, and passions. Therefore, the parent’s job is to help their children find their own path. In order to find their own paths, children need to have independence, freedom, and a sense of purpose. Parents who are highly educated are more likely to focus on their children’s intellectual capabilities and ignore their actual interests than parents who are less educated. Sometimes, being a plumber can be more fulfilling for a person than being a medical doctor. If a child has the innate skills and intelligence to become a medical doctor but his true passion lies within being a plumber, then they’ll never be happy as a physician. In order to help your child find their true calling, one must teach them how to listen to their intuition. In order for children to find new interests and to pursue them, parents need to learn how to take a step back. After all, children are more likely to focus on something that they really enjoy rather than doing things just because they have to. The lessons that we’ve discussed throughout this chapter don’t just apply to childhood, but also to college life. It’s okay if your child didn’t get into Yale. You should not consider it a failure and neither should your child. There are many different opportunities out there and lots of different colleges where your child can learn a lot of things. Instead of focusing on one great college, try to help your children find a college where they will pursue their interests and passions without thinking about prestige and popularity.

HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT CHAPTER #7: Stand up for your new parenting techniques and reclaim your personal time.

A lot of parents live through their children and for them. But they need to understand that they are not their children and that they have their own personal lives.

Research shows that a lot of children see their parents as heroes. However, when we look at most parents today, instead of “heroes” we find stressed, unfulfilled, and unhappy people. But this is not a healthy attitude and it has to change as it has a negative impact on children and parents alike. An adult is someone who is able to take time for relaxation, without neglecting their children. But helicopter parents have a manic obsession with their children’s lives and because they need to control them 24/7, they generally lack a personal life. Children need to feel safe, to be healthy and happy, and to have stable and happy parents. Authoritative parenting gives parents the chance to have a good personal life, to have passions and interests and to be healthy and happy. By learning when to say “no”, parents can be better adults and their children can have someone to look up to, instead of someone who is nagging them permanently. For instance, rather than never missing one of your children’s football games, you should try doing something that you enjoy. Your children will be fine and you will be happier and more relaxed when they come home. This new parenting style might seem a bit difficult at first and struggling with it is perfectly normal. You might feel as if you are the only parent who misses their children’s soccer games, and other parents might judge you. Or maybe your children won’t get into Harvard or Yale and your friends might be surprised. Whenever that happens, stand up for yourself and explain the reasons behind your parenting style and the benefits that you notice along the way. You won’t be able to convince everyone, as most people are stuck in their flawed logic. If you feel like your friends don’t understand your approach, you can try finding a community of like-minded people. There are many online communities where parents discuss their parenting techniques and you’ll find that there’s plenty of them who enjoy their independence and who prefer to give their children more freedom to explore.


What is the key message of Julie Lythcott-Haims’s book How to Raise an Adult? While it has become extremely common nowadays, overparenting has a lot of negative effects on children and parents alike. This parenting style can lead to stress, psychological issues, and even substance abuse. Children who have overprotective parents, also known as helicopter parents, don’t get the change to develop the basic skills that they need to become independent adults. Being an authoritative parent is much better and so is allowing children to follow their interests and passions and to choose their own path. Valuable advice: People might not agree with your new parenting style, but you should always stand up for what you believe in. Although the world seems like a terrible place, this is mostly what the media wants us to believe. In reality, our world is a much safer place, so sheltering your children from every potential danger is unnecessary. In order to become independent and strong, children should have the chance to experiment, to make mistakes, and to hypothesize. This is the most effective way of raising autonomous adults who are able to speak for themselves and to follow their own passions. What to read next: Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz William Deresiewicz’s Excellent Sheep casts a critical view of America’s most popular and prestigious colleges. According to Deresiewicz, the academic quality of the majority of elite colleges, including Yale and Harvard, is questionable. Ultimately, Excellent Sheep explores how prestigious American colleges stifle freedom of speech and independent thought and even contribute to class inequity.