Lawnmower Parents Clear a Path to Failure

Watch out, helicopter parents, there's a new pushy parent in town

You may have heard of helicopter parents who hover and swoop or tiger moms who roar. The latest trend in parenting has become the lawnmower parent. These parents are similar to helicopter parents, but they are even more extreme. Lawnmower parents will mow down any person or obstacle that may cause their children to struggle. These parents don’t want to allow their children to experience any failures or adversities.

Being a teacher, I have run across many types of parents, including those who fit the lawnmower parenting style. I have yet to meet one of these parents whose heart is not in the right place. Lawnmower parents want to protect and advocate for their children. They want their children to be happy and to experience success. These goals are admirable.  However, sometimes lawnmower parents are so focused on removing the current obstacles that they neglect considering the long-term consequences of their actions.

A recent Facebook post went viral, which brought attention to lawnmower parenting. In this particular situation, a student had been texting her father, begging him to bring her favorite bottled water to school.  Of course, there were water fountains, but she didn’t want to drink from them. She wanted the expensive brand that she had forgotten to bring. This was a working father who took time out of his busy day to bring the special water. He did not want her to be without it for the day. This seems like a sweet and thoughtful father.  However, it seems to me that the daughter would have learned more from the experience if her dad hadn’t rescued her from drinking from the water fountain. My guess is that she would be much less likely to forget her water in the future.

In my teaching experience, I have come across lawnmower parents who want their children exempt from classroom rules and policies. For example, I have a late homework policy that is clearly spelled out at the beginning of the year. Parents may discover that their children have not been turning in assignments and are consequently making poor grades. Lawnmower parents will expect me to make special exceptions for their children. They do not want the students to experience the negative consequences of their actions.

What would the children learn if I did agree to allow them exceptions to my homework policy? These children would likely learn that there are no consequences when they mess up. I would argue that they would continue not turning in assignments, because they haven’t learned any lessons. What would the children learn if I didn’t allow the exceptions? I believe it’s likely that these students would learn to turn in their assignments. This is an essential life lesson. It’s important to turn our work in on time. If I were to fail to submit this column promptly every month, my editor would likely find a replacement for me. We begin learning these lessons at a young age with things such as homework.

Unfortunately, children of lawnmower parents don’t have the opportunities to begin learning these vital life lessons. These children are not allowed to experience struggles, adversities and failures. Instead, they are left to discover how the real world works at a much later date. At this point, they haven’t developed the required skills to cope with challenges. The college professor is going to expect work turned in on time. A young adult will not get every job for which he applies. In real life, not everyone gets a trophy.

In third grade, we often struggle to get students to master their multiplication facts. Often, close to the winter break, we provide a party for those who have mastered their facts, while the students who haven’t mastered them are provided with extra time to practice. More than once, I’ve heard, “That’s not fair!” These statements frequently come from students who have lawnmower parents. These children have been learning that everyone deserves the prize, even those who haven’t done the work.

Experiencing struggles and challenges, even at a young age, does have benefits. Children who have faced difficulties have learned problem-solving skills and resiliency. For example, the student with poor grades learns to be more responsible. She learns that there are natural consequences, such as the low grades, when assignments aren’t turned in on time. Hopefully, parents let children know that the poor grades are unacceptable and may even provide consequences of their own. These children will likely make changes in their behavior by turning in their work on time. Those students with lawnmower parents will not have learned anything. They will probably blame the teacher. They will also likely not modify their behavior, because these children have no motivation to make better choices.

While I acknowledge that lawnmower parents have good intentions, they are not making their children happier or more successful in the long run. Children of these parents are being robbed of opportunities to learn important lessons as their parents go through life mowing down all of the challenges, struggles and adversities the children encounter. These children are left to learn critical life lessons at a much later time, when the lessons are more difficult to learn. Worse yet, some of them will never learn these important lessons and will likely not be successful in life, because they haven’t learned how to deal with life’s challenges.

Categories: Parenting