Are today’s young adults more immature than their age mates in previous generations? Yes, says Julie Lythcott-Haims, who was Stanford Uni­versity’s dean of freshmen and undergraduate advising for more than ten years. But it’s not their fault.

During her time at Stanford, Lythcott-Haims saw increasing numbers of what she calls “existentially impotent” university students. They may have been high school valedictorians, but they needed parental help to write their college application essays and term papers, to choose their majors, to get them out of bed in the morning, to give them directions when they got lost in strange towns, to intercede when they faced problems with professors, to find and furnish their apartments, and, in one case, to figure out how to get a large package from the sidewalk to a dorm room (Mom eventually called the resident fellow on her son’s behalf).

As a mother raising two children in high-pressure Palo Alto, California, Lythcott-Haims is well acquainted with the way these helpless kids were raised. Helicopter parent is the popular derogatory term for “a parent who hovers over a child in a way that runs counter to the parent’s responsibility to raise a child to independence.” Yet in many upper-middle-class communities, not hovering is equated with dereliction of duty.