An FBI sting operation, code name Varsity Blues, brought charges against dozens of rich and famous parents in 2019. They were accused of deceiving and corrupting college admission officers from some of the top centers of higher education in the country. It rocked the world of higher education. This new type of parent called the lawnmower parent is very different than helicopter parents of years past; helicopter parents hover nearby to swoop in whenever there’s a problem while lawnmower parents liquidate problems before their children ever have to face them.
In this article you’ll find out how to identify the traits of lawnmower parents and learn effective management techniques that will educate your staff and parents.
You might be dealing with lawnmower parents if:
- Trait 1: Their child is not allowed to experience conflict. The idea that two students need to learn to work out their differences is not acceptable to lawnmower parents. They will want you, the school counselor, and the other child’s parents to take charge and prevent their child’s feelings from being hurt, and
- Trait 2: They complete tasks, such as homework, for their child. At the first sign of their child struggling, lawnmower parents believe it’s their job to intervene and, if necessary, do the work to keep their child from getting frustrated or confused, and
- Trait 3: They give their child every materialistic whim. Lawnmower parents believe their child should never do without. Their children are the most likely in your class to have the newest technology, the most fashionable clothes, and large birthday parties and celebrations catering to their desires, and
- Trait 4: They engage teachers when conferences are not warranted. Lawnmower parents are the ones who have their own folder in your inbox and whose presence you’re tempted to duck when they drop their kid off at school.
If parents exhibit all four of these traits, you might be dealing with lawnmower parents. Now that you have a profile of how lawnmower parents behave, here are some strategies for how to work with them to build their children’s grit and resiliency.
Strategy 1: Educate the Community
Lawnmower parents cannot see how their actions are stimying their child’s social and emotional muscles and building resilience; both necessary skills for having a successful college and post-college life. The best thing you can do as a teacher or administrator is reiterate how you and your students’ parents share the same goal: to help their children become successful adults. In the least confrontational way possible, make sure your parents know that lawnmowing their children’s every problem will not help any of you toward that goal.
Strategy 2: Set Goals and Let Students Do the Work
Lawnmower parents are great at identifying their child’s path for success and doing all the work to lead them down to that path. However, when parents do these things, they rob their children of the opportunity to learn valuable skills for themselves.
That’s why it’s important to work with students to set goals, define what they need to do to meet those goals, and coach them as they work rather than doing the work for them. Here are some of the benefits of goal setting for students:
- Provides a clear path to success: When adults constantly tell kids “what’s next,” kids can develop a sense of learned helplessness, where they don’t know what to do unless they receive explicit instructions. Goals help students tell themselves what’s next to help them achieve things that are important to them.
- Teaches time management: Many students struggle with procrastination, but goal setting helps them plan and get organized in advance so it’s easier to stay on time and on task.
- Gives students a sense of focus and purpose: Students often ask why what they’re learning matters. Setting goals gives students their “why,” which they can refer back to when times get tough.
- Builds self-confidence: Hitting milestones and seeing progress on a big goal feels good! When students are involved in goal setting, they’ll be able to see how much they’re accomplishing and be inspired to keep moving forward.
When you define the path to success as students doing the work, parents will be able to redirect their energy toward coaching their students rather than taking over for them.
Strategy 3: Allow Failure and Struggle
Oprah was fired from a local anchor job. Harry Potter was rejected by a dozen publishers. Walt Disney was told he “lacked creativity.”
A study from Northwestern University tracked startup ventures for nearly 50 years to see if they could find a pattern in which succeeded or failed. They found that plenty of ventures failed at first (sometimes several times), but some never went on to succeed while others did. Those who succeeded identified what wasn’t working and improved it (instead of giving up or making changes at random).
Make sure to show them that if lawnmower parents really want to “rescue” their students, they should stand back and let students learn from setbacks so they can succeed long-term.
That doesn’t mean letting students flounder indefinitely. Instead, it might mean reminding students about an assignment but letting them take a bad grade if they choose to procrastinate. Or it might mean explaining how to work an equation and then letting students sit with it and get it wrong a few times before jumping in with the answer.
Final thoughts – Relationship, Relationship, Relationship
In our Parent and Family Engagement Workshops Parents want the best for their kids, and sometimes, the “best” means letting their kids struggle, fail, and learn the hard way.
Education is the perfect arena for children to learn how to try, fail, and try again, and to take ownership of the challenges life throws their way. Have our workshops help you educate parents on the dangers of lawnmower parenting, and give them strategies to help their students struggle in a safe environment.
It will be worth your time and theirs and will help your students long after they leave your classroom.