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NEA News

Educators Weigh In on Lawnmower Parents

By constantly safeguarding children from failure, parents may be taking away opportunities to learn problem-solving, conflict resolution and coping skills.
Published: 10/12/2018

lawnmower parentsA Missouri mom sued her son’s high school after he didn’t make the varsity soccer team. A father takes time off from work to deliver an insulated water bottle to his teenager so she doesn’t have to suffer the indignity of drinking from a water fountain for one day. Another parent calls a teacher to ask if her son can have an extension on an assignment rather than letting him ask himself because “she handles that kind of thing for him.”

Introducing the “lawnmower parent.” Rather than hovering above their children like helicopter parents, lawnmower parents plow ahead of them, interfering and micromanaging their children’s lives to safeguard them from failure, disappointment, or even the slightest bit of struggle. Lawnmower parents clear the way, mowing down obstacles so their children can blithely skip down a smooth, green path as glossy as a golf course.

It's difficult to strike the right balance between ensuring a quality education for your child and letting go and trusting the process. But though lawnmower parents are well meaning, they are doing more harm than good for their kids, as Duquesne University professor Karen Fancher writes in a blog post about parents who continue to clear the way even for their college-aged kids. She says this kind of parenting has long-lasting, detrimental effects on a child. For example:

  • 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.

According to a WeAreTeachers blogger, “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.”

Stephanie Samar, a clinical psychologist at the Mood Disorders Center of the Child Mind Institute, told "Good Morning America" that focusing on short-term parenting goals will take away from the practice of important, long-term goals that kids can benefit from like resiliency, grit, problem-solving, conflict resolution and coping skills.

For example, the parent who asks for an extension on her son’s assignment should instead let her son advocate for himself, if capable with guidance.

"When parents are removing obstacles for their child they are really taking away that opportunity for kids to learn those problem-solving techniques," she said.

What do educators have to say? We asked our Facebook fans what advice they’d give to the well-intentioned lawnmower parents they are likely to encounter this fall at Parent-Teacher conferences, and here are a few highlights.

“It’s better to allow our students to experience the challenges and sometimes the pain of mistakes or failure in the age-appropriate environment of school so they can gain valuable coping skills and corrective life skills to handle inevitable pain and disappointment in certainly less safe environments later in life with few supports,” posted Jennifer Simpson of Houston, Texas. “The loving arms of parents can help them process pain and console them, but they don’t need to prevent it.”

Elizabeth Rich of Atlanta, Georgia, suggested we ask parents to think back to the times they went experienced something that built character. “Was it an easy breezy occasion,” she posted. “Or something very hard? By removing obstacles we’re depriving these great souls of endless opportunities to grow, change, mature, and become kind people.”

Renee C. Johannesen of Fredericksburg, Virginia, said if lawnmower parenting continues, "We're creating a generation with no coping skills."

Mary Grebe, from Bethpage, New York, puts it simply, asking parents to relax because "We got this."

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The National Education Association (NEA), the nation's largest professional employee organization, is committed to advancing the cause of public education. NEA's 3 million members work at every level of education—from pre-school to university graduate programs. NEA has affiliate organizations in every state and in more than 14,000 communities across the United States.