We have heard the term helicopter parent for many years. There is a new term, lawnmower parent, which has been around a couple of years. While helicopter parents are known for keeping a close eye on their kids’ every move, lawnmower parents are paving the way. They’re mowing down obstacles before their kids reach them! A lawnmower parent is defined as a parent who clears all obstacles from their child’s path, so that they never have to deal with any problems by themselves. Instead of hovering, lawnmower parents clear a path for their child before they even take a step, pre-empting possible problems and mowing down obstacles in their child›s way.
In her book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don’t Do, Amy Morin describes what happens to kids who are raised by overprotective parents, or lawnmower parents, who can’t stand to see their kids struggle. While their intentions are good, there are long term-consequences for their kids. She describes 5 ways these parents hurt more than help:
• They aren’t teaching kids how to deal with discomfort or negative feelings - Whether they’re heading to school to deliver forgotten homework or they’re telling the coach their child needs more playing time, lawnmower parents don’t want their kids to experience the sting of rejection or the pain of failure. Consequently, kids aren’t gaining the emotional skills they need to prosper.
Making mistakes, dealing with adversity, and facing failure can be hard for kids; they may have negative feelings to deal with. But those hardships have the power to teach valuable life lessons. Instead of removing those feelings, help them verbalize them, process them with your child.
• They’re preventing kids from problem solving - Lawnmower parents are quick to swoop in and fix the problem—often before their child even realizes a problem exists. From calling their college student every morning to ensure they’re awake on time for class, to scheduling a meeting with the child’s teacher every few weeks, lawnmower parents act more like personal concierges than authority figures.
It’s tough to watch your child struggle. But struggle is where character is built and learning takes place.
• Lawnmower parents are not instilling confidence - Lawnmower parents tend to make decision for their kids, to clear the way through all obstacles. They think the message they are sending is, “I love you,” when they remove obstacles from their child’s path. But what their kids are learning is, “I can’t do this on my own.” They are not learning to become competent and gain confidence.
Kids need to fight their battles so they can develop belief in themselves; they need to feel competent and confident. Adversity can help them learn to trust their own judgment so they can become more independent and capable.
• They’re fostering poor mental health - Lawnmower parents want their kids to be happy. Ironically, their efforts ultimately sabotage kids’ ability to be happy in the long-term. They calm their kids down when they’re upset, cheer them up when they’re sad, and entertain them when they’re bored. That means the parents are taking full responsibility for their kids’ emotions and kids aren’t learning how to regulate their own emotions, which is bad for their mental health.
Kids need to know that it’s OK to feel distress—being sad, scared, or angry isn’t the end of the world. Learning how to identify, understand, and cope with those emotions is key to self-discipline, a necessary component in positive wellbeing.
• They aren’t helping kids build mental strength - Lawnmower parents treat pain or disappointment as if it’s the enemy. Kids need to practice overcoming challenges that once seem difficult or hard. A child who realizes he’s stronger than he gave himself credit for will train his brain to think differently. Or, a child who persists despite his frustration will learn that he has control over his feelings.
Mental strength helps kids think realistically, manage their emotions, and take positive action. Allowing kids to build their mental muscles (and flex them) at a young age is a gift. It helps ensure that they’ll have all the strength to tackle the challenges of the adult world.
So, how can you keep from becoming a lawnmower parent (or reform if you are one)? All of us want the best for our kids. They key is to not focus too much on lessening your child’s discomfort for the short-term and begin to focus on what they need in the long-term. Here are some tips:
• Back off and let your child experience a bit of adversity and help then deal with negative emotions with your help and guidance. It may seem mean or cruel to you at the time, but it builds their resilience and mental strength.
• Tell your kids what you are doing! Sit down with them and have a talk with them. Tell them you are going to change, and things will be different. Yes, you will get push back and resistance. Hang in there and do not go back to old ways. It will get better!
• Instead of solving problems for your children, give them strategies for solving problems themselves. Ask them, “What do you think you can do to solve this problem?” Break big problems down into smaller steps…help make things more approachable. Support and encourage them as they try some new alternatives. Let them make choices and take ownership.
Focus on what is healthy for your child in the long run. Try to move away from the “instant gratification” mindset. It takes patience and love and consistency. Don’t give up! Your children will thank you one day!
Until next time, happy parenting!
Gail Roaten has taught counseling students for 13 years, and was a counselor in schools for 12 years. She has provided parenting classes and trainings through various churches and the Department of Family and Protective Services. She has a Ph.D. in Counselor Education and Supervision, and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas. She is the parent of three children and has six grandchildren.
The information Roaten is providing is based on research and research-based practices as well as from well-known theories. The parenting information and tips offered is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column is not intended to replace or substitute for any professional, financial, medical, legal or other professional assistance or therapy.
The information found in this column is not intended to treat or diagnose; nor is it meant to replace the treatment and care that you may be receiving from a licensed professional, physician or mental health professional.
This column, its author and The Rockport Pilot are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any information provided that may be used in parenting. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.