Grown and Flown is one of those parenting help books that targets a specific, underserved niche: the older teenager as he or she is wrapping up a high school career and heading off to college. Thus, it covers some “typical” teenage issues such as angst and sex, but it also discusses college admissions and the letting-go process as these young adults ‘fly’ from home toward their own independence.
Written in a direct, easy-to-read style with the right note of wit and humor to make the reading engaging, Lisa Heffernan and Mary Dell Harrington share woes and triumphs of their own experiences mixed with contributions from professionals and with advice-seeking readers from their popular website, also named Grown and Flown.
The book begins by sharing the impetus that brought the website into being in 2012. They write, “The internet is full of smart, funny, insightful, inspiring websites dedicated to raising kids until they are teens . . . . It is as if our kids turn thirteen and someone says, ‘You got this’ . . . only that is entirely wrong.” They go on to say that they themselves didn’t quite know where the website would go or what it would become. They knew they wanted to provide content for parents of high schoolers and twentysomethings. They figured that as children went off on their own that parenting would matter less, but they found the opposite to be true: “we have since learned from our own lives and by listening to tens of thousands of parents that parenting never ends.”
While the book is divided into nine chapters, there are some themes that permeate throughout. Both Heffernan and Harrington acknowledge that teenage anxiety and mental health is a major talking point for parents. Armed with research, statistics, and advice from professionals in the mental health field, they explain that being a teenager is different for kids today: “Parents have watched their kids endure more stress than they ever did at the same age, and for many this is a source of concern. Our kids took more tests, harder classes, needed higher scores, and weather more competition—while we stumbled into colleges that most of us readily acknowledge would never accept us today.” And thus, the authors give tips for adjusting our parenting mindset, for creating stress-free and judgment-free zones at home, for teaching them to talk to their teachers (a harder task than one might think), and so on. The book also discusses many common health concerns, especially in terms of alcohol and sex, and helps to advise parents about the fine lines between letting them be and stepping in, especially from afar if a child is away at school.
The authors also deal with the elephant in the room for today’s parents: overparenting. The subtitle of the book alludes to this: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults. They acknowledge that parenting teenagers has changed significantly from when they were young, when the cultural norm for parents was minimal guidance in most matters, which led many young adults in the ’80s and ’90s to rely on the “wisdom” of their peers. Now those young adults are parents of a new generation of young adults.
The fear of becoming a “helicopter parent” was impacting the behavior of a generation of parents. We were told our kids had to separate, stand on their own, and that by remaining a highly influential force in their lives, we endangered their ability to establish autonomy. But that seemed like a false and flawed dichotomy. Being close to your teen is not the same as doing things for them or clearing their path and disabling them . . . . You can be close to your young adult, talk to them regularly, share dinners and group tests with the family, and still let them find their own way and solve their own problems.
Heffernan and Harrington predominantly give advice that the child is to do the work of such things as asking for teacher recommendations, talking to the coach, and so on. However, the book is full of lists of things parents can do in the background such as raising soul-searching questions about colleges and majors of choice. A more concrete example is that parents now can monitor and track students’ progress in classes via online grade portals. Heffernan and Harrington spend some time weighing the pros and cons of this option. While some parents say it’s important to be active in their child’s education, other parents call it surveillance and a form of control. Ultimately, Heffernan and Harrington write,
We think this is a tough parenting question, but we come down on the side of not using the portal, except when you need to use it. . . . As kids work their way through high school, we shift responsibility of most aspects of their lives from us and onto them. In the realm of academics, kids from ninth grade on can certainly monitor their own grades . . . however, in cases where students are underperforming, lying about their grades, or failing to try, the portal is opened.
This approach to this one topic also seems to sum up the authors’ philosophy in the “Grown and Flown” years: be supportive and available for your child, but let the child be responsible and only step in when necessary.
Lastly, the regular theme that comes into almost every chapter is that you are not alone in this parenting gig. In fact, they stress the inclusivity of it. Without being glib, they allude to many troubles that may seem unique to a “new” parent of the “Grown and Flown” years as things that have happened before. But there is nothing off-putting about such an approach; in fact, it’s supposed to be a balm; others before you have already gone through this, and here are some tips to help you navigate. Here’s where the authors’ writing style and advice from other contributors can be especially useful, because there are lists in nearly every chapter that break down the issue into manageable chunks to help parents help their kids. Among the many lists are ideas such as, ten things it might help to say when your son’s or daughter’s heart is hurting; four key lessons we tried to impart to our kids to help with their academics; fifteen things high school teachers really want parents of their students to know; and six common myths about starting college. It goes without saying that this approach is both the reason they started their website and the reason they compiled a book, so that the information can be easily accessed in nine user-friendly chapters
For parents of high school students and college students, this book might become a bible of sorts. I know for myself, with three kids currently in this age category, I highlighted, underlined, and starred several passages that either resonated because of circumstances or applied to the here and now. Some of the topics may not apply to a particular child, but other topics may inspire an aha moment—or even a cringe moment—when we realize we may have been inadvertently doing something unhelpful. In any case, it’s a useful tool to have available when helping grown children navigate this time in their lives.
To read more about Lisa Heffernan, click here.