Growing roots and wings

Woodstock student participating in activity week

Growing roots and wings

Several times recently different people have forwarded me the following TED Talk by Julie Lythcott-Haims – academic, author and the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford:

It’s a great talk – and I recommend it. Her latest book, “How to Raise an Adult”. Lythcott-Haines makes a powerful case against parents focusing too much on test scores and grades and calls for a return to the one approach which has truly stood the test of time – raising children to be independent.

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.” Johann von Goethe

Drawing on wide-ranging research and her own extensive experience as a student dean, Lythcott-Haims explains how what she calls ‘overparenting’ can threaten our children’s futures and causes emotional harm. For example, in her book, she mentions a study at the University of Tennessee which established a link between overparenting and anxiety or depression in young people. Other research she refers to is equally alarming and indicates that overparented children are ‘less open to new ideas’ and take ‘less satisfaction in life’.

Every parent knows that we come into the role as amateurs. Despite thousands of books, articles and lectures on the subject, our instinctive drive to protect our children from harm and hurt often overrides even the most well-established advice from the experts. Julie Lythcott-Haims doesn’t only give us a painful critique of overparenting. She also offers practical steps designed to develop resilience and resourcefulness in our children – qualities which will allow them to truly succeed in life.

Here are five proven themes which emerge from Julie Lythcott-Haims’ work:

  1. Give children plenty of opportunity for unstructured time – time to play and time to get bored!
  2. Make sure ‘struggle’ and ‘hard work’ are seen as a normal part of life.
  3. Allow young people to chart their own path – with guidance, of course!
  4. Have a wide perspective on what the right university/college might be for your son or daughter.
  5. Listen to them


I think the 19th century writer and statesman, Johann von Goethe, summed these things up perfectly when he wrote, “There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.”

Dr Jonathan Long, Principal

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