How To Raise An Adult: break free of the overparenting trap and prepare your kid for success

by Julie Lythcott-Haims

A short review by Patrick Fullick

The introduction to this book begins: “This is a book about parents who are overinvolved in the lives of their kids.” It then continues to describe the author’s family situation – mother a graduate of Stanford and Harvard Law School and a former dean at Stanford; raising two children with her husband in Palo Alto in Silicon Valley. As far as could possibly be removed from a family in Europe and their children, then? Well – yes, and no.

No, because here Europe we are probably free of the very worst excesses of “Tiger Moms” and over-ambitious parenting. Yes, because undoubtedly what Lythcott-Haims describes in the first part of this book is the kind of parenting style that many of us can identify with; being overprotective, over directive and excessively hand-holding. All of these – she points out – prevent our children from becoming the kind of adults we want them to be.

In her professional life, Lythcott-Haims has seen first hand the effect of raising children by removing all risk, pain, and accountability from their lives, and paints a portrait that the New York Times described as “the ‘Black Hawk Down’ of helicopter parenting”. But this is not just a rant about the millennial generation that we have raised, and there is hope.

Lythcott-Haims’s advice to parents can be summarised in three broad precepts which all form part of “stepping back” from children’s lives:

  • Stop saying “we” if you really mean your child (are “we” really doing a project on the local area, for example?)
  • Stop arguing with the adults in your children’s lives
  • Stop doing your children’s homework

Now, it is arguable the extent to which each of these is really to be found in parenting styles on this side of the Atlantic, but most education professionals I know would identify one of these – to some degree – in at least some of the families and clients with whom they deal.

Read the book, watch the Ted Talk and reflect on just how best to support your children in order to set them properly on the path to adulthood.

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(Published 29th September 2016)

How To Raise An Adult

by Julie Lythcott-Haims

Bluebird; Main Market Ed. edition: 368pp, £13.48

An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education
by Tony Little

A short review by Patrick Fullick

Tony Little retired as Head Master of Eton College in 2015, having spent 13 years in the role. With a lifetime spent in education, this book represents his “heartfelt acclamation of the fundamentals of schooling; of the virtues of a well-rounded education; of the need to develop passionate and confident children; and of the absolute necessity for all our children to benefit from the gifts bestowed by the very best teaching.” (Extract from the book jacket.) Little takes firmly on the chin the idea that the Head Master of Eton may be regarded by some as having nothing worthwhile to say about education (“They may well be right.”), and wears his wealth of experience very lightly throughout this book, which is both pleasurable and easy to read. “Common sense” abounds, and little comes across as a deeply compassionate human being.

In addition to a short introduction and a final chapter, there are 13 “core” chapters in this book, arranged in order that they naturally fall into four broad sections:

  • schools and the nature of education
  • the development of the child through adolescence
  • liberal education
  • schools as institutions

Little was himself educated at Eton, going on a scholarship as the first person in his family to continue in education past the age of 14. He writes with the benefit of teaching at a range of schools; within a week of starting his first headship, pupils had smashed an entire lavatory block and painted on the wall “Little – tomorrow your head”. Hence his advice to new teachers to be “tougher than they feel is intuitively right” and advice to parents to “have a sense of what ‘discipline’ means” when looking at a potential school for their children.

Parents will find much comfort in this book. There are sage words about teenage years, informed by Little’s neuro-pharmacologist deputy who inspires Little to note the vast differences between the adult and adolescent brain and to wonder at the “creativity and flexibility of the adolescent mind” which he despairs may be stifled by conventional education. Chapters on boarding and co-education are informative and contain plenty to encourage careful, reflective thought.

The book contains an absolute gem of a final chapter, containing “ten questions that need answers” which Little says he would ask when considering a school for his child. These include the profound (“Does the head inspire confidence?” “Are the teachers inspiring?”) and the mundane but essential (“Do the published statistics make sense?”). They are then followed by the “ten questions I wish parents would ask of themselves” such as “Do I believe my child is almost perfect?” and “Do I like rules and regulations until my child breaks them?”

Useful and very possibly essential reading for any parent thinking about their child and education.

(Published 29th September 2016)

An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Education

by Tony Little

Bloomsbury Continuum: 288pp, £9.09

Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas
in the 21stCentury by Tanya Crossman

Reviewed by Patrick Fullick

OECD estimates suggest that the 5 million or so internationally mobile students are likely to grow to 8 million by 2025, and further as the century progresses. A subgroup of these students is the subject of Tanya Crossman’s recent thorough and detailed book, providing an insight into the world of the TCKs – “Third Culture Kids”.

The term TCK was coined by the sociologist Ruth Hill Useem in the 1950s, whose work was concerned with children who spend part of their developmental years in a country which is not their own as a result of the work of one or both of their parents. This somewhat over-simplified picture of children growing up whilst being internationally mobile (across both geographies and cultures, as we shall see) is problematic in the 21st century, and at the start of the book Crossman very helpfully puts the TCKs in the context of a larger group of children known as the CCKs:

There are many ways, and many reasons, a child may grow up internationally. Perhaps their parents work or study overseas. Perhaps their family immigrates, or returns to their birth country with foreign citizenship. Perhaps their parents are from different countries. The common thread is these children grow up ‘in-between’ – between two or more countries, cultures, languages – even if they live in the one place. Broadly, these children are known as Cross-Cultural-Kids (CCKs). A CCK is ‘a person who is living or has lived in – or meaningfully interacted with – two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during childhood (up to age 18)’ (David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.)

Although Misunderstood is concerned principally with a subgroup of the CCKs, the group as a whole have many experiences in common and share many of the same emotions as they reflect on their lives, although Crossman sees TCKs as having the unique experience of living in a country “they know can never be ‘home’ , with the understanding they will leave one day”. But doesn’t this description also apply to those whose families move abroad with the primary purpose of educating them there? Maybe Russian and Chinese children being educated in the UK are TCKs rather than CCKs, then?

What is a TCK?: The three cultures of a Third Culture Kid concern the influences on the child. These are (according to Useem) Legal culture – any country where the child has legal standing, eg where the child holds a passport or citizenship. Geographic culture – any country in which the child has lived (which may or may not include the child’s legal culture(s)). Relational culture – the culture of shared experiences (which might include such things as familiarity with international travel, loss of friends and being left by friends, confusion about where ‘home’ actually is, and so on).

However, it is not important to get hung up on definitions. Crossman’s gift to internationally mobile families with children is her analysis of the interviews conducted by her with around 270 current or past TCKs, supplemented by a separate survey of another 744 TCKs. Her systematic approach extends to the way in which she has recorded and presented information about each TCK’s passport(s) and countries of residence, and the way that she has organised the themes that have emerged from the life stories that she has collected. These themes include coping with constant changes of friends (with concomitant feelings of grief and loss – sometimes severe and quite overwhelming), constantly needing to “start all over again”, patriotism, language and identity and pressure to excel. The book concludes with a chapter on what the adult future may hold for a TCK child.

This is a book which describes the many differences between TCK (CCK) children and children who grow up in one dominant culture. Inevitably, therefore, there are many sad stories. One girl (age 24 when interviewed) describes moving back to the US from China:

“Moving back was so much harder than moving overseas because in coming back, I thought it would only be hard missing people, that I would feel at home here in the midst of that. But coming back was just so heart wrenching. My friends had changed, I didn’t know anyone at my school, and I felt like I couldn’t be myself. Before school started, everything felt normal because it felt like summer break and that I’d soon go back to Beijing, but once school started, the shock was enormous. No one knew about me. And I couldn’t explain myself in the quick time period it takes to meet someone new.”

Loss of language skills is another deep source of emotion, as one parent recounted when telling a story about a family meal:

“My wife and I were conversing in Khmer at the dinner table. Our oldest child, then 11, was listening in and, I thought, understanding. I asked her a question in Khmer, and she didn’t reply. I persisted, asking another question. She asked me – in English – to stop. I asked her why she didn’t want me talking to her in Khmer, and she said it was because she couldn’t understand me anymore. She put her head down on the table and started sobbing, momentarily overcome by the sadness of having left so many people she loved and the deep regret of forgetting the language that connects her to her past life.”

Inevitably, the range of issues raised which are drawn from this great number of examined lives are wide and disparate, even given that they are grouped into themes in a systematic way. Crossman has many helpful suggestions in dealing with the problems in each area, but issues such as children in multiple language settings are the subject of an entire literature, and so she can do little other than scratch the surface. But advice is not what this book is about or for. If you are looking for a book that will tell you exactly how to raise or cope with your TCK or CCK, then this is not it. If, however, you are open to reading about a wide range of experiences of children growing up in international settings, in order to shed light on your own family’s situation, then you will find this book an extremely interesting read.

(Published 6th September 2016)

Misunderstood:

The Impact of Growing Up Overseas
in the 21st Century

by Tanya Crossman

Summertime Publishing: 382pp, £12.99

Other links / material:

Tanya Crossman interview:
http://drieculturen.blogspot.com/2016/08/q-with-tanya-crossman-author-of-book_10.html

Ruth Van Reken, adult TCK:
http://www.crossculturalkid.org

Am I rootless, or am I free? ‘Third culture kids’ like me make it up as we go along by Ndéla Faye: 
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/mar/09/third-culture-kid-identity-different-cultures

So Where’s Home? A Film About Third Culture Kid Identity from Adrian Bautista:
https://player.vimeo.com/video/41264088

So-Wheres-Home-Screen-Grab

“So Where’s Home? explores the unique perspectives and identities of Third Culture Kids, people who have spent a significant portion of their childhood overseas. The purpose of this short documentary project is to understand why third culture kids struggle to answer the question of “so where’s home?” and the implications this difficulty has on personal identity. This project was Bautista’s final senior thesis project for his film & media studies minor at Georgetown University.”

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