Overparenting – Oversimplified on social media?

Scrolling through my Facebook feed this morning, I clicked on a post that featured an excerpt from the recently published book, HOW TO RAISE AN ADULT: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims. This excerpt seems to be from the foreword to the book, or perhaps the first chapter, in which Lythcott-Haims addresses the issue of baby boomers supplanting their goals and achievements onto their offspring with a result that has left their children bereft of the capacity to navigate the world independent of their parents. According to the excerpt, Lythcott-Haims claims that the boomer generation “eclipsed their own kids’ chances to develop a critical psychological trait called ‘self-efficacy'” – generally, the ability to be self-reliant and confident. The debate regarding under-prepared undergraduate students is certainly worth consideration, but my focus is on the online comments for the posts and what it reveals about critical literacy in our culture – or the lack of it in Facebook comments, at least.

Having read the original post and comments on kqed.org  and skimming through many of the  NPR Facebook comments, I’m amazed at how many people on Facebook neglect to mention (or perhaps didn’t even notice) that this is an EXCERPT from a book published this week. Comments suggested lack of evidence for her argument – folks, this, again, is an excerpt! An opening statement, or foreword, doesn’t usually contain evidence. Evidence for the argument that Lythcott-Haims makes will be in the chapters. I should point out here that evidence is apparently cited in footnotes 14 and 15, which are clearly visible in the text, but not included in the post. Comments below the original post on kqed.org were more informed and on topic.

I shouldn’t be amazed at the lack of thorough reading by Facebookers, but I am. Perhaps I expect too much critical thinking on the part of the Facebook audience who commented on the post – a cross-section of people over the age of 13. At the time of this blog, 493 comments have been made on Facebook. While many comments fell short of recognizing the fact that this is an excerpt, the topic of parenting, education, and the importance of both is clear from the comments.

The topic is a timely one, given the current state of advanced hysteria over hyper-state mandated testing and achieving higher scores at the K-12 level in the US. Colleges and universities will likely be the next targets for mandated testing, and some colleges and universities are already under scrutiny.  In our climate of mandatory improvement of achievement scores and high-stakes testing, has the system forced parents to overparent their children? Perhaps both K-12 high-stakes tests and the financial burden of pursuing a college degree have contributed to the issues that Lythcott-Haims addresses. Of course, the excerpt – as well as the book – appears to target a US audience of parents in an economic class who expect their children to attend college. What about parents in an economic class who will be glad to have their children graduate from high school? Do they also overparent?  What about the high school students who believe that college is so expensive as to not even be an option?

I do not know if I will read the book or not, but both the excerpt and the comments on the original post and the NPR Facebook page raises questions for me as a parent, a late “boomer,” and an educator who has observed the phenomena of both over- and under-parenting. Our young people are growing up in a world of instant everything. Are we as a culture in the US truly preparing our high school and college graduates to live in a world in which they must think for themselves as adults?

We need to provide our children with the skills to live in a world in which we may never experience. Just twenty years ago – in 1995, Twitter and Instagram were barely a blip on someone’s imagination. Facebook didn’t even exist. Google wasn’t even Google yet. Amazon.com went online for the first time in July 1995. We were still renting VHS movies in 1995. Smartphones? Not until 2002 – just 13 years ago. The blur of today’s social media and technology might have stymied the most progressive technological thinkers on the planet as recently as forty years ago.

The most important skills with which we can endow our children includes problem solving and critical literacy: the ability to comprehend, research, analyze, and evaluate any issue and express ideas deliberately, clearly, and coherently on any topic. Those skills are necessary for self-efficacy as well; when students have the skills to research, analyze, and evaluate the ideas of others as well as express their own ideas, they develop the ability to think for themselves and make their own decisions – secular, sacred, financial, political, educational, personal, moral, and civic – with confidence. Perhaps overparenting cramps or delays the development of those skills, but the problem of students being unprepared for the reality of life does not rest with overparenting alone. The over-testing of students is also a factor in this tech media era of sound-bytes, flash media, and clipped thinking.

Tests be damned, if students demonstrate these skills effectively and repeatedly, they can think for themselves and navigate the increasingly complex transcultural and transnational maze of tech media.

No single achievement test can assure self-efficacy, problem solving, or critical literacy – all are a process. The foundation of these adult skills is formed in our youth, but we spend our entire lives developing them.

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