In 'Brutally Honest' series, Kelly Wallace tackles provocative parenting questions
An article on why parents should let their children fail went viral in January 2013
Studies: Helicopter parenting can lead to more depressed and less confident adults
Recently, my younger daughter left her class project, a time capsule, at the door so I would see it the minute I got home.
Her project wasn’t due for a month, and she took it upon herself to start it and finish it. I beamed at her great work ethic.
If the story ended here, I would proudly say I am one of those parents who is totally comfortable with the whole “letting my kids fail” concept, but alas, there is more.
You see, even though my daughter worked hard to create a unique time capsule – complete with a slipper, miniature soccer and basketball, chess set, Pokemon cards and cordless phone – I worried that the other kids, probably with help from their parents, would have much more elaborate and highly constructed time capsules. Plus, I thought my daughter didn’t quite complete the assignment.
She wanted to bring the project in the following morning. “I put my heart into it,” she told me.
No-brainer, right? But no, I was torn between not wanting to crush her spirit and making sure her project was viewed positively by her teacher and peers.
I think you can probably guess which feeling won out. She brought the project in after the weekend – and only after I had her re-read the assignment and add decorations and information.
There is no doubt in my mind she was prouder of her work before I meddled. Why on earth did I do such a thing?
Many of us good, well-meaning parents are scared of our children “not being right all the time” and are motivated by a desire to buck up our kids’ self-esteem when we’re actually doing more harm than good, according to Jessica Lahey, author of the upcoming book “The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed,” which will be released in August.
Lahey, who has spent more than a decade teaching middle and high school students, has become somewhat of an expert in this area, after her article “Why Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail” in The Atlantic back in January 2013 went viral.
The article included an unforgettable anecdote: Lahey called a parent to inform her that her child would be punished for plagiarism only to learn from the mother that she, not her daughter, wrote the entire paper.
Sure, an extreme case, but an example of what many parents do, thinking they are actually helping their children.
“Every single time we turn around and say, ‘I’ll just do that for you’ or ‘Here let me help you with that,’ we are saying to them, ‘I don’t think you can do that for yourself,’ ” said Lahey, who is also a columnist for The New York Times and a contributor to The Atlantic and Vermont Public Radio.
“And that is really damaging over time. We create a really helpless culture of kids so that now when I talk to college professors, they say these kids show up to college unable to handle anything on their own.”
The research backs up just how dangerous our inability to let our children stumble and figure things out on their own can be for them as young adults.
A 2013 study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that helicopter parenting can lead to anxiety and depression in college students, and decreased feelings of autonomy and competence.
Another investigation, this one led by the University of Arizona, found that adults who were overparented have an exaggerated sense of entitlement, and more doubt about their ability to overcome challenges.
The study also found that helicopter parents have dependent and neurotic kids.
Why do we do it?
Part of the reason we step in, says Lahey, is because we want our kids to love us.
“We want to feel needed and so when we take that homework assignment to school for them and rescue them, we feel we get to check that box off today. ‘I was a good parent,’” said Lahey.
She writes in the book about her own struggles, how one morning, her younger child, who is now 11, worked really hard on his homework assignment and then left it on the coffee table.