We've spent the last couple of decades talking about the unhealthy impact helicopter parents have on kids. But, in the wake of lawn mower parenting, those hovering helicopter parents aren't looking so bad.
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.
While the term "lawnmower parent" has been around for a couple of years, the idea recently picked up steam in an anonymous article written for We Are Teachers. But the truth is, lawnmower parents have been around for a while and we're already seeing the repercussions.
As a psychotherapist and a college professor, I see first-hand what happens to kids who are raised by overprotective parents who can't stand to see their kids struggle. While their intentions are good, the consequences are devastating.
Here are five ways lawnmower parents hurt more than they help:
1. They aren't teaching kids how to deal with discomfort.
Whether they're racing their kids' forgotten soccer cleats up to practice or they're calling the coach to insist their child get 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.
In fact, a 2015 survey of college students found that 60 percent of them felt emotionally unprepared for life after high school. They weren't equipped to deal with loneliness, conflict, boredom, or anxiety on their own because they'd never had an opportunity to practice dealing with those emotions before.
Making mistakes, dealing with adversity, and facing failure is uncomfortable. But those hardships have the power to teach valuable life lessons.
2. 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 biology teacher to talk about science fair project ideas months in advance, lawnmower parents act more like personal concierges than authority figures.
Good problem-solving skills are essential but I see college students who don't know how to get help or where to turn when they encounter everyday problems, like a tough assignment or a broken appliance. They've never had to figure things out for themselves and without a parent there to fix everything, even the slightest obstacles have the power to keep them stuck.
It's tough to watch your child struggle. But, the struggle is where character is built and learning takes place.
3. They aren't instilling confidence.
Lawnmower parents treat their kids as if they're too fragile to deal with life. They think they're sending a message that says, "I love you," when they remove obstacles from their child's path. But their kids are actually learning, "I can't do this on my own."
I see a lot of anxious teenagers and young adults in my therapy office who are plagued with anxiety and self-doubt because they grew up believing they couldn't handle stress. Their insecurities make it difficult to succeed, which causes them to feel incompetent.
Kids need to fight their battles so they can develop a belief in themselves. Adversity can help them learn to trust their own judgment so they can become independent adults who are ready to tackle the challenges of the real world.
4. They're fostering poor mental health.
We're seeing a huge spike in anxiety among today's teenagers. And much of that is likely due to lawnmower parents' refusal to help kids gain coping skills.
Lawnmower parents want their kids to be happy. But, the ironic thing is, 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 (and chasing happiness only provides fleeting moments of instant gratification). Learning how to cope with those emotions is key to self-discipline, a necessary component in positive well-being.
5. They aren't helping kids build mental strength.
Lawnmower parents treat pain as if it's the enemy. But kids need to carry some weight and encounter some resistance to build mental muscle. Mental strength helps kids think realistically, manage their emotions, and take positive action.
Kids need practice overcoming challenges that once seemed insurmountable. 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.
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.
How to Overcome Your Tendency to Be a Lawnmower Parent
I've never met a lawnmower parent whose heart wasn't in the right place--they all wanted what was best for their kids. But they were all too focused on reducing their child's discomfort in the short-term, rather than focusing on their child's needs in the long-term.
If you're a lawnmower parent, it's important to back off and let your child gain experience dealing with adversity. Backing off a bit could be the kindest, most loving thing you could do.