I recently read an article about a new type of parenting, well maybe not that new, but perhaps a different form of it. We all know about “helicopter parents” – the ones who do everything for their child(ren).
It looks less like this (although it looks fun):
And more like this:
While it’s common for parents to be concerned that their child(ren) will be alright in school (or life, for that matter), it’s possible to smother them and actually inhibit their social and emotional development. You can read more about it here, here, and here.
The article I came across is from We Are Teachers, and it discusses what they call, “Lawnmower Parents”.
Instead of having the parents do everything for their child(ren), making sure they have everything they need, these new types of parents want to make sure their child(ren) have little to no challenges or adversity in life.
It’s not a bad thing to want to protect children from dangers of life, but by sheltering kids from the challenges of growing up, they will be ill-prepared for adult life. The We Are Teachers article puts it like this:
I think that most lawnmower parents come from a good place. Maybe they experienced a lot of shame around failure as a child. Or maybe they felt abandoned by their parents in their moments of struggle, or dealt with more obstacles than most. Any of us—even non-parents—can empathize with the motivations of a person not wanting to see their child struggle.
But in raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids. We are creating a generation that has no what idea what to do when they actually encounter struggle. A generation who panics or shuts down at the mere idea of failure. A generation for whom failure is far too painful, leaving them with coping mechanisms like addiction, blame, and internalization. The list goes on.
What are some of the effects of this parenting style?
One source shares some possible outcomes:
- She becomes poorly equipped to deal with routine growing and learning experiences. This includes everything from asking for directions and dealing with an annoying roommate to much broader skills like communicating with superiors, negotiating for something she wants and coping with disappointment.
- She doesn’t develop a sense of personal motivation or drive, since she only knows how to follow the path that the Lawnmower Parent has already prepared.
- She can’t make a decision, big or small, without the guidance of others.
- She constantly receives the message that she isn’t good enough to do this herself. In essence, the Lawnmower Parent is repeatedly demonstrating to the child that she cannot be trusted to accomplish things on her own.
(*note: these can apply to both boys and girls equally)
The We Are Teachers article goes on to say this:
If we eliminate all struggle in children’s younger years, they will not arrive at adulthood magically equipped to deal with failure.
Which I wholly agree with, personally.
A child who has never had to deal with conflict on their own will not approach the first test they bomb in college and say, “Yikes. I really need to study harder. I’ll reach out to the graduate assistant and see if they know of study groups I can join or other materials I can read to do better on the next one.” Instead, they will very likely respond in one or more of the following ways:
- Blame the professor
- Call home and beg their parents to intervene
- Have a mental breakdown or make themselves miserable
- Write nasty reviews online about the professor and their class
- Begin planning for the inevitable destruction of their college career/future
- Assume they failed because they’re stupid
- Collapse in on themselves and give up completely and stop trying
How do you avoid becoming a lawnmower parent?
- School age kids: start practicing now! Let your kid do the talking as often as possible: ordering at restaurants, asking for directions, or calling a friend on the phone to ask for a playdate instead of arranging it yourself via text message.
- High school kids: while there is still room for parental involvement at this age, insist that your child attempt all communication on her own first. If she needs to miss a quiz and do a make-up, have her make the arrangements with the teacher, and only intervene AFTER she has made the first attempt on her own. If she has a conflict between track practice and music lessons, have her discuss the possibilities with the involved groups, then have her make the decision and deal with the potential consequences.
- Kids of all ages: TRUST your kid to do well, and tell her repeatedly that you believe that she can make good decisions on her own. Give her room to make mistakes, even major ones sometimes, and learn from them together.
I haven’t had to deal with these types of parents (yet), but I’m sure I will someday. I’ve had plenty of the “helicopter parents” though, and they’re NOT fun. But when/if I do deal with them, I’ll do my best to help them understand that people only grow and get better by experiencing new things, challenging things, and sometimes even hurtful things (because life isn’t always rainbows and sunshine).
I want to end with the final paragraph from the We Are Teachers article, as I believe it is a fitting message and final thought from the article’s author:
If we want our children to be successful, healthy adults, we must teach them how to process through their own challenges, respond to adversity, and advocate for themselves.
Here’s the link to the article: