You’ve heard of the “helicopter parents.” These are the ones who hover over their little bundle of joy long past the age when they need that level of supervision. Helicopter parents are often ridiculed for being overprotective and too cautious, not giving their children space to grow and find their own footing in a complex world. Well, move over helicopter parents because you’ve been outdone. If a helicopter parent is the one standing under the monkey bars on the playground in case little Billy takes a tumble, the lawnmower parent dismantles the entire playground so that little Billy doesn’t have to climb at all.
This extreme parenting behavior is being reported in many schools, and those who see it in action are very worried about the impact it will have on the children’s future success.
What does Lawnmower Parenting Look Like?
Lawnmower parenting gets its name because we make clear, even paths when we mow the lawn. Likewise, this parenting style aims to remove all obstacles and difficulties from our children’s paths, giving them a clear and easy route to success.
In practice, it can take many forms. A teacher recounts having to go to the office to retrieve a “necessary” forgotten item from a child’s parent in the office. The necessity? A fancy water bottle. Apparently, the child had been texting her mother that she “needed” it and could not be bothered to drink from the school’s water fountains, so her mother gave in and brought the bottle to school for her.
Another tell-tale sign of this parenting style is stepping in to handle conflicts on the child’s behalf. If two children are getting into a disagreement on the playground, a Lawnmower Parent might step between them and do the negotiation for them so that it doesn’t become an argument. Lawnmower Parents also check (or just outright do) homework to make sure that it’s correct. They make connections to try to land their child a great internship and even solicit letters of recommendation on their child’s behalf when it’s time for college applications.
They, in short, try to make their children’s lives as easy and straightforward as possible.
What’s the Problem?
The problem is that life is not easy and straightforward. No matter how hard we plan, prepare, and worry, our children are going to face obstacles that we couldn’t have predicted. When they do, they will need the skills of all of those tiny life lessons in order to overcome the setback and make their way to the goal.
A forgotten water bottle teaches a child to be resourceful. A dispute on the playground teaches a child how to negotiate and navigate complex social relationships. Making mistakes on a homework assignment gives the child an opportunity to find out what the error is so that it can be avoided for the test. Shaking hands and asking for letters of recommendation helps a child learn how to be confident and mature.
All of those “little” things that we do for our children in order to make their lives easier are precisely the things that teach them life’s big lessons.
If we want our children to be prepared to navigate the world without us by their sides (something they will eventually have to do), then we need to start curtailing our involvement early so that the independence and skills build gradually.
Nothing is more unfair than a child who has never had to struggle suddenly facing the world alone. The best thing you can do for your child is to create the conditions that build independent thinking and resilience, and these conditions require facing obstacles head-on and overcoming them.
It will be harder, take longer, and cause frustration, but that’s what true learning and growth look like, and it is precisely this kind of academic setting we strive to create and foster at The Tenney School.