How to Raise an Adult
How do you prepare kids for life in the real world? Author Julie Lythcott-Haims joins Lisa and Reena for a conversation on the non-academic skills your children need to succeed as they move into young adulthood. Julie spent more than a decade at Stanford University, some of that time as the dean of first-year students. The women talk about how to discuss race with our children, the different chores kids should take on as they age, and the critical importance of having real responsibilities at home. Julie describes the power of positive parenting and talks about her brand-new book Your Turn: How to Be an Adult.
April 6, 2021 | 30 min
Transcript | How to Raise an Adult
Ask Lisa Podcast, Ep. 34: How To Raise an Adult
The Ask Lisa Podcast does not constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for professional
mental health advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have concerns about your child’s well-being,
consult a physician or mental health professional.
REENA: I’m excited about this one. Julie Lythcott Hames is joining us today. She’s a New York Times bestselling author of “How to Raise an Adult” which led to her Ted Talk, now viewed more than 5 million times. Her second book is an award winning prose/poetry memoir “Real American.” It illustrates her experience as a Black and biracial person in white spaces. But her latest book, out just this week is called, “Your Turn: How to be an Adult.” She was also in a previous life a corporate lawyer, and at Stanford the dean of freshmen. Hey, Julie. Welcome.
JULIE: Thank you so much. It’s great to be here.
LISA: We are thrilled to have you with us. So, actually let’s talk for a minute about your new book, what a great topic. Tell us about it.
JUIE: This book is a response to the pleas coming out of the millennial generation, I don’t know how to adult, I don’t want to adult, I’m scared to adult. I have been rooting for this batch of young folks to make their way confidently down the path of their choosing for a long, long time, and this book is me trying to simulate what it’s like to be in a safe, cozy, conversational space with a trusted person who’s just older and a little bit farther down the path of life than you. So it’s a compassionate offering to a generation of young folks who I’m totally rooting for.
REENA: And who you work very closely with at Stanford and you know this population well, and you’re also a mom, right?
JULIE: I am. I have a 21-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter very much in the throes of trying to hashtag adult.
LISA: And the book, just so we say the title because I love the title, is “Your Turn: How to be an Adult.”
JULIE: That’s right. I mean it’s crafted, I suppose by the publishing folks, as a sequel to the first book, which was “How to Raise an Adult” on the harm of helicopter parenting, on the impact on children of an over-involved parenting style. This is in some ways that clap back to that if you will. It’s for young people. Your turn, how to be an adult, yes.
LISA:I love it, I love it.
REENA: Well, it’s interesting because I feel like the adults can’t be adults these days, so it’s great to have this book right now. But you know we’re looking right now in our country and race has really boiled over. One of the things we’ve seen recently is the coverage of violence against the Asian community. We saw in the summer as well with Black Lives Matter. There are a lot of parents who might not be Black, who might not be Asian, but they really want to raise kids who understand race. What would you tell them? What advice would you give them?
JULIE: I think I would say first of all don’t say you’re color blind, don’t say you see everybody is the same because we are not the same. This country was built on the premise that white folks were superior to everyone else. Know the history, know the history of what we did to Native Americans, know what we did to Africans in bringing them here and slaving them, us, my ancestors. Know that the vestiges of those decisions made 400 years ago are very much still present in a racial hierarchy in America today. So, we don’t want to say we don’t see color. What we want to do is appreciate that we are an incredibly diverse set of humans in this country, America, that people do have different lived experiences on the basis of their skin color, and that our differences may make us have different life experiences, and yet we are all humans deserving of being treated with dignity and kindness. So, as parents we ought to be watching the news and then in an age appropriate way saying to our children, let’s talk about what just happened in Atlanta. My heart goes out to Asian Americans and the Asian American community broadly speaking. It must be terrifying to worry that you could be harmed simply because somebody doesn’t like what you look like. You know that’s a conversation we ought to be having, regardless of our race, in our homes today, and last summer and, and, and, and. None of this is new. Some people are awakening to it anew, which quite frankly I have to say as a person of color, is frustrating, that some people have only just figured out in 2020 and 2021 that others of us are targeted for harm on the basis of what we look like, but hey for those who are discovering it anew, welcome. Do get yourself up to speed, and most importantly ask yourself, what are you going to do about it? Because I think we’re all clear that complacency and sitting back and it’s someone else’s problem, that is that is no longer okay.
REENA: So you’re saying simply having a conversation about the news and what you’re saying with your kids could be a huge first stop?
JULIE: Absolutely. Also be mindful of the media you’re bringing into your house. Are you watching television shows with your kids that only reflect our folks who look like you? For way too long white families have had the luxury of anytime you turn on the television to watch a sitcom or drama with your kids, any time you went to the movie theater everything reflected back your own people. Only recently have we begun to see a rise in television and movie production of stories that feature Black and brown and Asian and Latinx and native folks as just authentic humans, not the side kick, stereotype, one off character alongside a white ensemble. This is why my Asian American friends cried during “Crazy Rich Asians” because it was just the overwhelming joy of seeing themselves on the screen as quote unquote normal quote unquote regular people, and the reason we Black folks cry during Black Panther because it’s just this plethora of all different kinds of folks wearing dark skin just being awesomely human. It’s that normalization of those of us who have historically been marginalized and otherized that is starting to happen increasingly in the media and in narratives in fiction and nonfiction and so on. So the times are a-changing and that’s good, and it requires a focus on an intentional willingness to talk about differences and differences in quality of life, differences in our experiences so that we can raise our young people to really know deep in their bones every one of us is different and yet we are exquisitely similar in that we yearn to be seen and loved and respected as we are.
LISA: I love that. Julie, thank you. I would want to do a whole entire podcast on that. We’ve got some questions, though, that we collected from families that I want to make sure that we bring your way. But thank you both for the specificity and the broadness of that answer. You know the language that you gave us that we can use in our own homes and then also the zoom out and really putting in front of us how big, persistent, longstanding and atmospheric this issue remains for us. Okay, so you were the dean of freshmen at Stanford for nearly a decade, and have a lot of experience with kids coming to college. What would you want parents to know about preparing kids for college life survival beyond just studying, beyond just hitting the books, what do they need to know?
JULIE: You don’t want your kid to leave your home to go to college without confidence that they can ask for help when they need it. If we have overmanaged their lives as we are wont to do, as I have done with my two kids for sure, they can emerge from our homes with a fantastically high GPA and all the right test scores and activities and sports on a resume, but feeling rather unfamiliar with the very human act of engaging with other humans to ask for help, to solve problems, to make choices, to deal with the bureaucracies of life, of which there are many, so that very basic skill, can day talk to a stranger? Let me flip that childhood norm on its head. We’ve told them don’t talk to strangers, which was idiotic. We’re supposed to teach them how to discern the one creepy stranger from the vast majority of humans who are fine. We are a social species. We need one another, being able to advocate for oneself in a classroom, in a store, in the community, on the sidewalk, advocate for oneself with respect toward this other person is a key life skill.
LISA: It’s funny, Julie, I have a daughter who’s a junior in high school, and last night we were sitting at the dinner table, I have a 10-year-old and a 17-year-old, and somehow the topic turned to emails to teachers, and how to write an email to teachers, and my 17-year-old actually was giving a very good lesson to my 10-year-old about how to do it and I said to her, is this something you’ve been doing a long time or is this something you’ve just done this year? And she said, it’s something I’ve gotten a lot better at this year, and one thing I’m seeing is that for all of the horrible-ness of the pandemic, boy is it an opportunity for kids to learn how to self-advocate with their teachers and to ask for what they need.
JULIE: Absolutely. So the pandemic has been an opportunity to do just that. It’s been, if we chose it, an opportunity for us to be a little hands-off office parents because we’re so busy with our jobs while our kids are home going to school, all of us in the same house, right? Many of us have taken that opportunity to be hands off, or more hands off, allow our kids to send that email, talk to the teacher without us having to proofread it in advance or write it ourselves. That said, it sounds like there’s been a regression where young adults have come back home and and been treated by their parents as if they’re still 15 instead of that 21-year-old, that 23-year-old has been enjoying greater freedoms out in the world of work with the world of college or grad school, and so whether somebody grew or regressed during this pandemic has everything to do with the intentionality around did I seek opportunity to build skills or did I seek the opportunity to be sort of cocooned and completely cared for by someone else?
REENA: You know it’s interesting. My parents are from India and the focus was always on the books and academics to the point where we never did chores growing up. My dad refused to pay us for any of them, we never needed to do them. I have my kids do chores. Do you feel having kids do chores makes a difference in preparing them for adulthood? What age should you start? What should you have them do?
JULIE: Yeah so it’s not it’s not my feeling, it’s research coming out all kinds of places including the Harvard grant study, which is one of the longest studies of humans ever conducted, studied humans over the decades of their life, which said, and it kicked off thousands of findings, but one of them was those in the study who turned out to be professionally successful in life turned out to have done chores as children or had a part time job in high school, and the reason being chores and part time work when they’re older them I’ve got to pitch in, I’ve got to be useful, I’m expected to contribute my sweat, my efforts to the betterment of the whole, it’s not just about me, it’s not just about what I need, it’s not just about the glamorous fun things of life, it’s like get the job done. So, yes in “How to Raise an Adult” I very much advocate that parents give their kids chores starting at age 2 and 3 I’ve got a list in that book of broken down on 2 to 3, 4 to 5, you’d be stunned when a 5-year-old is supposed to be able to do. I didn’t realize chores were important until my kids were maybe 8 and 10 or 10 and 12, and I was like, wow they have a whole lot of catching up to do, and I don’t think we should pay them for chores. I think they do need an allowance so they have some pocket money, the ability to practice saving and spending and giving to others, but I want to be able to add more responsibilities at home without paying them more money. I certainly don’t get paid to clean up my house and I don’t want my kids to expect that they will be paid for such things.
LISA: Reena, do your kids have chores yet?
REENA: Well, but they don’t follow through. I end up doing them. It’s like one of their chores is to unload the dishwasher, they’re 8 and 10, one person sweeps the floors after every meal, the other person unloads. Julie, how am I? What are they supposed to be doing at 8 and 10? I’m curious what the 5-year-old’s supposed to be doing too?
JULIE: Okay, so Reena, your 8- and 10-year-olds are supposed to be able to, according to this list that I found, are supposed to be able to fold clothes, learn simple sewing, take care of personal hygiene without being told to do so, use a broom and dustpan properly, read a recipe and prepare a simple meal, help create a grocery list, count and make change, take out the trash. Okay and let me tell you what a 2- and 3-year-old can do because this is just adorable. Here’s the point, the sooner you start, you know if you read Michaeleen Doucleff’s new book,
“Hunt, Gather, Parent” she really harkens back to Indigenous communities who still today are teaching their kids by these ancient methods that end up raising kids who are competent, confident, kind, all the things we wish our kids were, and they start young by just sort of nodding in the direction of the chore, like we’re making dinner, the parent nods and that’s their body and the little ones follow and start to help. The older they are when we’re trying to instill chart chores the more reluctant they will be. A 2-to-3-year-old can help put their toys away, dress themselves with some help from you, put their clothes in the hamper when they undress, clear their plate after meals, and assist in setting the table, brush their teeth and wash their face. Little ones can also dust low level things and they can sort laundry into light and dark
REENA: That’s at 2? Because they’re grown men, Julie, who don’t put their clothes in the hamper.
JULIE: I know, and the question is why? And the point is we let folks get away with not contributing and it really gives them sort of a haughty sense of self, like I’m here to be served as opposed to I’m here to contribute, and it deprives them of the chance to learn these important life skills. It’s not all about academics, I like to say, it’s not Kumon, it’s the vacuum. Our kids need to learn to roll up their sleeves and pitch in. That’s going to build a work ethic and an expectation within themselves that they will contribute to whatever community they’re a part of, whether it’s a house full of people their own age in their 20s or a workplace where a boss expects you to be useful and to try to anticipate how to be of greater use.
LISA: Well that’s the idea of anticipation of taking the initiative, of not always waiting for somebody to tell you what needs to happen, one of the chores that we started to do with our younger daughter when she was 4 is that her designation was toilet paper Santa, that her job was to go down to the basement, get the big thing of Costco toilet paper, and distribute the toilet paper through the bathrooms in the house and we have over time said to her, we shouldn’t have to tell you, you should be noticing when this happens and she’s really done a great job with it, and she folds all our laundry, the 10-year-old folds all our laundry.
JULIE: That’s amazing. These are great examples, absolutely. And you know what, again I’m quoting Michaeleen Doucleff, her new book “Hunt, Gather, Parent,” she talks about how giving kids those responsibilities, and holding them accountable as you did, and growing the skill, which is not just do it but be the one who pays attention to whether it needs to be done and doing it without being asked, it gives a kid this, according to Michaeleen, this sense of I belong to the family, it’s almost like having a family membership card. I’m needed, I’m taken seriously, I’m trusted, all of these senses of self are built in these really simple ways, these mundane tasks that they do end up really contributing to a far greater thing, which is that sense of agency, that sense of being valued. Yeah so it’s all good. Food for you, gold star, Lisa.
LISA: Thank you. Okay I have a question, I want to go one more deep dive on this chores question because I really think so much of the chores questions where a lot of family life the rubber hits the road. So, I also as I mentioned I have a junior, and I will say in the pandemic of the junior year high school, junior year, has not been as academically taxing maybe as it normally would be, which I am 100 percent fine with, but one of the things that I’ve sometimes run into as a dilemma that people opposed to me, and I’d be curious what you say, is that for some kids who are pretty swamped academically, let’s say under a more typical junior year, the question of how much should we ask them to be doing in terms of helping around the house when they are feeling really, really bogged down by academic demands? I think it’s a really good question and I feel like it gets right down to the nub of what you’re working on and talking about and thinking about. So, tell us what are your thoughts on that?
JULIE: First of all, it’s all a choice. We’ve decided to live in a community that has public schools that have decided that the junior year should be hell. Or we’ve decided to enroll them in an independent school where the junior year is hell. That’s a choice we’ve made. Society has put that out there as a possibility and we’ve grabbed onto it. Okay so we’ve decided junior year, oh my gosh they won’t get sleep we’ll never see them. Please know that you’re making a choice in accepting that. I’m here to say do not compromise their sleep. Do not compromise their meals. They still need downtime. They still need family time. They still need to be doing chores. Okay, let’s not let the academic monster undermine our kids’ development of work ethic, of a sense of I belong to this family, I participate, I contribute. Obviously everything needs to be a balance. If your kid is super stressed out about something, they’re already up late, it’s due tomorrow, now’s not the time to say like, don’t forget you gotta take out the, like give a little bit of slack but do not give the entire junior your slack because you’re sending the absolute wrong message that all that matters to us are your academics. No your child actually needs to know they’re still loved and a valued member in this family, regardless of what grades they get, and that doing a great job undoing the dishwasher, taking the trash out, folding the laundry, that you look him in the eye and smile and say, thank you so much. I appreciate you. That love, that I see you, kid that you’re offering when they take care of business is going to bolster them in an emotional resourcefulness when they’re stressed about this and that, the chemistry, the math, the history, the English, or whatever it might be.
LISA: I love that. I love that. Both as a duty and also as an opportunity to actually support them. Okay we have a question from a listener. and you actually mentioned jobs. At what age should kids get, quote, a real job? By real job I mean a job with someone else being their boss, not the family, and having to answer to them.
JULIE: Let me note here that there is so much privilege involved in the conversation in the topic we’re having, okay? Poor families, working class families, it is about should I give my child, right? It’s like you’ve got to. You’ve got to contribute, you’ve got to help, and guess what? I’ll tell you as a college dean, kids who came out of poor and working class environments and made it to the college I was a dean at or any college for that matter, because they had a decent education and a mentor or two who saw them through those difficult, challenging moments. They have a tray in their tool kit that the more affluent peers lack, and it’s a beautiful thing. They’re accountable, self-reliant, responsible, accustomed to taking care of business instead of accustomed to let me text my parents and get them to help. I just have to say that as a factor.
LISA: I love it.
JULIE: A very important question. High school was always a traditional time. The kids had summer jobs. I was a babysitter for my summer and after school jobs. That’s how I earned my spending money. You know so many things have changed since I was coming up in the seventies and eighties, right? About can we even let kids be alone let alone babysit our kids when they’re 12 and 13, a lot of questions around that, but working for somebody else is an incredibly valuable and important thing. My guess is really 8th grade, 9th grade 10th grade, if there’s a job in your community that will hire kids that young, it’s all very community specific about what’s the minimum age to work, but the sooner the better because boss is not motivated by love, but motivated by the bottom line of did you take care of business? Did you think ahead to what I might need you to do? Those are the people that are giving our kids the very valuable feedback about how their efforts are actually viewed in the real world. When we parents tend to say, perfect, great job for every little thing they do, it feels loving but it’s undermining their sense of what is actually a great job, and if we do too much of that at home they go out of the workforce expecting the boss to constantly tell them how amazing they are and we really set them up for disappointment. So real world work, 8th grade on, is super valuable, and I know it’s hard in communities with these high academic expectations because where’s the time? There are plenty of families who’ve realized you know what, I’ve got to find the time because this kid needs to develop that accountability and responsibility and hey, here’s the final bonus reason why you might? College admissions deans love essays written about the workplace. Okay so all the enrichment, oh we did this wherever to save whomever, they’re so tired of that manufactured community service. They love the stories that emerge out of you know on my summer job or my after school job, you know I learned this and that. Those great stories. That’s a hot tip.
REENA: That’s a hot pro-tip for parents out there. My radar just went on. You know, Julie, you’re talking about the real world, we’ve got this other question from a mom about boys and she says: ‘I’m a single mom of a 10-year-old boy. I’m so fed up with all the talking back and whining. How do I get through the preteen years? How do I raise a responsible boy who’s not privileged or spoiled, but has respect and is aware of the real world?’
JULIE: Well this is really out of my wheelhouse. I was a college dean. I work with college students. I raised my own 10-year-olds but this is not my expertise. Of course that won’t prevent having an opinion.
LISA: Go for it, Julie.
JULIE: We are our kids biggest role models. So, what we want to be doing is saying without malice, without anger, we want to be self-regulated in our emotions, and look at our 10-year-old when they’re not being sassy and awful. Look at them when we’re in a calmer moment and say, when you speak to me like this, I feel this. I just want to let you know because I imagine you’re not intending that, and smile and say that and say, you know if you’d like to talk about it I’d love to talk about it, and then just move on. Our kids are looking for our attention, so the second thing I would advise is when your 10-year-old does something wonderful, is kinds to a sibling or is generous spirited in some way, is overjoyed about something, turn to them and let your face light up with a smile and say, that was so kind, or I really appreciated that you did that, or I love how happy you are about this. In other words, have more of those positive interactions where you’re giving them positive feedback when they do something great. That ought to incentivize them to exhibit those behaviors more and the bad behaviors less.
REENA: I never realized until this pandemic happened I was spending so much time with the kids how much positive reinforcement can transform bad behavior.
JULIE: Absolutely. 100 percent.
LISA: All right, Julie, let’s come back to your new book. Give us one tip. If you only had to say one thing that you want parents to have as they prepare their kids for adulting.
JULIE: Your child is not your pet or your project or the evidence of your amazingness. Your child is a unique human given to you by the universe or God or however you believe humans got here. It is a humbling joy to get to raise, shelter, feed, love the heck out of this child. Their path is not yours to craft. If you want a cardiologists in the family go be a cardiologist, but let your kid be who they, over the course of their adolescence and young adult years, will feel a stirring within themselves about what they want to become. Root for them to combine their talents and passions and do work and find love in ways that are meaningful to them. Back off. Be respectful. It’s their life. It’s their turn.
REENA: Oh my god it’s emotional. Why am I so emotional hearing you say that? It’s so beautiful.
LISA: No, it’s deeply moving, deeply moving, Julie.
JULIE: I’m rooting for all of us, y’all. I’m rooting for all of us and I’ve seen so many young people constrained on the path of life by a sense of what other people need them to be, and often they feel they’re only loved conditionally. I’m loved when I get the As, I’m loved if I’m pre-med, and I’m rooting for every single one of us to get out from under the noise in our heads that is what other people expect or value and to simply find our own voice. I’m often guided by the late poet Mary Oliver, “Tell me what do you want to do with this one wild and precious life?” It is wild and it is precious, and I think that’s why tears come to our eyes. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing, this life. It certainly can be and I’m rooting for all of us to make it.
LISA: We’ve got to end there. There’s nothing else to add. Julie, you are a gift, your work is a gift.
JULIE: Thank you, Lisa.
LISA: We’re so grateful for you. We’re grateful for your time. It’s very moving. I’m goose bumpy and teary at the same time. Okay, speaking of gifts, we’re going to give away your book. I think at this point everybody knows they need it, for themselves, for their kids. So we’re thrilled we’re going to have two copies of Julie’s fabulous new book just out this week, “Your Turn,” available, as always, the way we do our giveaways, just follow us on Instagram or Facebook or LinkedIn at the asklisapodcast, leave a comment, tag a friend, enter as many times as you’d like, and it’s open to folks in the U.S. but I’m sure people outside the U.S. can also get your book, and we will choose a winner next Tuesday. Julie, thank you, thank you so much for your time.
JULIE: I appreciate you. Thanks. I love the work that you do and I’m honored to get to be with you and your listeners today, so thanks to everybody who spent this time listening to us.
REENA: I feel like I just went to church and I haven’t even been zooming into church these days. That was so good, so good. Before we go, though, can you give us your parenting to go, Lisa? It’s a hard follow up after that.
LISA: I know, actually something Julie said reminded me of a principle that I believe very strongly, both as a psychologist and a parent, and I just want to use it under score one of the many excellent points she made, which is as parents we’re going to get more of whatever we pay attention to. So, if our child speaks to us in a snarky, or I’ll even say snotty, way and we indulge that with a response and attention and energy, they will feel that that’s an acceptable way of getting our attention. Whereas, if we say, we don’t talk that way, or when you talk to me like that this is how I feel, try again, we will get less of it, and like you were both talking about, when we respond very enthusiastically and warmly to when they’re being wonderful we will get more of that. So, think of your attention as your parenting leverage and pay attention and give energy to the things you want more of and have a very restrained and redirecting response to the behavior you want less of.
REENA: Fabulous. Thank you, Lisa, so grateful to Julie. The book is called “Your Turn: How to be an adult” just released this week. So grateful Julie could join us, and I’ll see you next week, Lisa.
LISA: See you next week.