Parenting is challenging, especially in today's post-pandemic world. It certainly wasn't easy raising my own three daughters.
I don't claim all the credit for their successes, but all three grew up to be highly accomplished people. Susan is the CEO of YouTube, Janet is a doctor, and Anne is the co-founder and CEO of 23andMe. They rose to the top of ultra-competitive, male-dominated professions.
When writing my book, "How to Raise Successful People," I received so many questions about different parenting approaches. But what everyone really wanted to know was: "What is the worst parenting style?"
Based on my experience and research, I believe "helicopter parenting" is the most toxic.
Helicopter parenting — sometimes called "snowplow parenting" — is when you constantly remove obstacles so that your kids don't have to deal with challenges and frustrations.
This form of hyper-involvement disempowers children; you're essentially doing everything for them and making sure all their needs are met even before you know they have a need.
Studies say it also hurts kids' abilities to develop self-control, problem-solving skills, navigate conflict on their own, and create an identity separate from their parents.
Helicopter parents have the best of intentions, but the outcomes are the opposite of what they want — they are producing kids who are afraid to take risks, always need help, and lack creativity.
My friend Maye Musk, a successful model and the mother of Elon Musk, agrees on the harmful effects of helicopter parenting.
She never checked her kids' homework. She couldn't. She was working five jobs to make ends meet. When their homework required a parent's approval, she had them practice her signature so they could sign for her.
"I didn't have time," she told me, "and it was their work."
That's exactly what kids need today — to not be controlled or overprotected, but allowed to take responsibility for their own lives.
On the other hand, parents should not go to the other extreme. You don't send kids out alone to go shopping when they are five years old, or expect them to make dinner when they're 10. Give them challenges that are age-appropriate.
The goal is to have them be proud of the job they do, a job that is theirs and theirs alone. They'll build skills toward independence and also learn to help out around the house.
It could be in the kitchen cooking, for example. We all cook. Teach your kid how to make their own breakfast. They can pour cereal and milk. Older kids can make a scrambled egg. Or they can all learn to make a salad. It's so simple: Wash the lettuce, cut a tomato or an avocado, add dressing ... and voilà!
If your child has never cooked, they may not feel capable of cooking anything without someone watching over them. Most kids don't know how to make anything for themselves. I wish I was joking, but I'm not.
Both parents and teachers can empower kids to be independent thinkers, work with their peers, and build up their self-confidence.
I recommend following TRICK, an acronym for Trust, Respect, Independence, Collaboration and Kindness:
- Trust: Trust has to start with us, the parents. When we're confident in the choices we make, we can then trust our kids to take necessary steps toward empowerment.
- Respect: Every child has a gift, and it's our responsibility to nurture that gift. This is the opposite of telling them who to be, what profession to pursue, and what their life should look like.
- Independence: This relies upon a strong foundation of trust and respect. Truly independent kids are capable of coping with adversity, setbacks and boredom — all unavoidable aspects of life.
- Collaboration: Collaboration means working together as a family, in a classroom or at a workplace. For parents, it means encouraging kids to contribute to discussions, decisions and even discipline.
- Kindness: Real kindness involves gratitude and forgiveness, service toward others, and an awareness of the world outside yourself.
Give yourself a break and stop over-monitoring your kids. Let them help and lead. They will appreciate it, grow up more independent, and believe in themselves.
Start by letting your children make decisions about what they want to do this weekend, maybe even plan something for the whole family. Imagine how empowered they'll feel.
Esther Wojcicki is an educator, journalist, and bestselling author of "How to Raise Successful People." She is also the co-founder of Tract, where she's bringing her student-centered teaching philosophy to classrooms around the world. Follow her on Twitter @EstherWojcicki.
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