When my kids were little, I took great pains to remove obstacles in their way and to make life easier. It started with buying them food and making sure they had a place to sleep. For years, the whole concept of parenting was based around the idea of enabling. We enable them by changing a diaper, plugging up electrical outlets, and clearing a path in the living room so they can walk. We become accustomed to hovering around them at all times.
As we all know, this helps them at a young age to figure out how to become independent, but as kids get older, we're tempted to keep hovering, to keep enabling. We meet with high school teachers to see if they can provide special assistance. We send them money in college to buy extra food. Helicopter parenting means we swoop in to save the day and help them in times of distress.
Unfortunately, for some parents, that's not quite enough.
Recently, new research suggests that parents are now doing more than just watching from a distance as their kids mature and become adults, then help them when the need arises. Instead, so-called "lawnmower parents" attempt to resolve any future conflicts, paving the road for adult children so that they have an easier time finding a job or landing an internship. They mow things nice and trim for a smooth journey.
As we all know from the recent college admissions scandal, some will also go to great lengths to make sure their child is admitted into an elite college.
The data is revealing.
In the poll, 1,508 kids and young adults from ages 18 to 28 participated with an additional 1,136 parents of children in that age group. One of the most interesting findings? That 76 percent of the parents helped their college kids by reminding them of deadlines and when homework is due. 74 percent still made most appointments, including doctor and dentist visits. 22 percent still helped a college age child with homework assignments.
Those were the most appalling stats because of how many parents still assist little Timmy even though he is actually not in high school anymore.
A few of the findings are also quite shocking for a smaller subset of parents. Of those surveyed, 8 percent of parents still confront a professor about grades. 16 percent help Susie fill out an internship application.
It's lawnmower parenting because it means trimming any obstacles to success for the child, making sure there are no conflicts that will get in the way.
However, it's a really bad idea.
I do a lot of mentoring with college students, and I know they are in a very safe place to experience failure. Professors might seem harsh and foreboding to a young adult, but they are actually caring individuals who are mostly in academia because they care about the future generation. I like to tell my students that a boss in the real world will not be so understanding. It's better to learn how to deal with failure and conflict on your own.
Like helicoptering parent, when you soften any of the obstacles facing a college student or young adult, you are not doing them any favors. They do not learn how to handle problems in life, how to persevere through failure, and how to overcome the challenges they will face in the workplace.
Those parents who allegedly bribed college admissions staff and coaches to accept their child into an ivy league school? They might be the same ones who book dentist appointments, help with homework, and resolve conflicts.
It's not a sign of love and nurturing.
It's a sign that we don't trust our kids to actually grow and mature.