Move over helicopter parents… lawnmower parents are moving in!
Yep, here comes yet another label, and yet another reason to second guess your parenting skills. But, as we all know, the challenges that arise as we raise our kids are constant and ever-changing, so it’s probably good to reassess our methods and approaches from time to time.
So… what is lawnmower parenting?
The concept has caught on ever since a post written by a teacher on an online community website went viral. According to the anonymous poster, lawnmower parents “go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent their child from having to face adversity, struggle, or failure.”
She went on to give examples, such as parents who rush to school to deliver non-essential items left at home, or who step in to act as a go-between for their child and teacher to resolve simple issues, like asking for project extensions and scheduling makeup tests.
In a USA Today interview, Hannah Hudson, Editorial Director for that aforementioned online teaching community, WeAreTeachers.com, admitted that we all have a tendency to want to help our kids, but she shared some extreme examples of lawnmower parenting that came out as a result of that post. Some of these included the parent of a high school student who asked a teacher to walk their child to class to assure that he/she would not be late. And another where a parent requested that someone from the cafeteria blow on their child’s too-hot lunch to cool it down.
Okay, these are obvious cases of overdoing it, but how do you know if you’re taking it too far? A piece on First for Women offers up these five clues:
- Do you step in and break up a conflict before it even happens? Helicopter parents will hover over young children, making sure there is no conflict between them. Lawnmower parents might go the extra step and make sure that their children never experience conflict by only having playdates with close friends, never anyone new. Or to make sure children don’t fight over a beloved toy, lawnmower parents will go out and buy a duplicate. True, the kids won’t fight — but they’ll never learn how to share or handle conflict, either.
- Do you “help” with homework? Helicopter parents might constantly ask their children if their homework is done, and check the parent portal nightly, making sure all assignments are turned in and all grades are acceptable. (And to be fair, this may be necessary with some children who are not at all self-motivated.) Lawnmower parents will go the extra step and actually do the homework with their children — or (alors!) do the homework for their children. If you’re proofreading and typing a high school English essay, what, exactly, is your child learning? That their mom or dad is good at English?
- Do you drop off homework, sweaters, and water bottles at school? While helicopter parents might perform a daily checklist (do you have your lunch, your science project, the class hamster?), lawnmower parents will bring anything and everything to their children as soon as they receive the text request. If your child forgets their homework at home, and you bring it to them, then the lesson learned is that you will always be there to deliver the things they’ve forgotten — which is a lousy (not to mention false) life lesson. If you refuse to bring their homework to them, then what they learn instead is to be responsible — an important life lesson indeed.
- Do you argue over grades with teachers? If your child truly believes they’ve earned a higher grade than their teacher has given them, let them meet with the teacher and discuss the grade themselves. Arguing eloquently and respectfully for what you believe in is an important life skill — one that your child is not learning if you are doing the arguing for them.
- Are you overly engaged in the college application process? While helicopter parents might be on their children’s cases about choosing and applying to colleges, lawnmower parents might actually be creating the top-10 lists and writing college application essays for them. This is one of the last acts of lawnmower parenting before the child leaves for college… and he or she has no idea how to cope without you.
Let’s be honest, we’ve all made parenting errors in our effort to help our kids. How can we avoid this lawnmower syndrome? A college professor offered some advice on Grown & Flown. For parents of…
- 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.