And She Writes
Monday Musings from Samantha: Parenting Practices in the 21st Century
Updated: Jun 29, 2020
I harbor a lot of thoughts on the topics of "snow plow" parenting and “social engineering.” I've seen the effects of both, as well as an array of 21st Century parenting techniques, as a professional and parent.
You may have heard the terms "helicopter" parenting and "lawn mower" parenting, but we now have a new term coined "snow plow" parenting. Their commonality? Parenting practices by overreaching and fearful adults. These terms first came onto the scene in the early 2000s and have evolved since then.
In 2005, I began my career in higher education in student services and academic advising. Although I served many first generation college students, I also advised students whose parents were college graduates. The latter often times had parents who were heavily involved in their decision-making. As a part-time graduate student, I read about and discussed this newer parenting phenomenon in the evening, and saw it rear its ugly head during the day in advising sessions, email exchanges and phone calls.
It was at this time that parents regularly "hovered" hence the name helicopter. Children were usually taking steps in the decision making process, but they frequently checked in with their parents. This was before text messaging was common practice so I listened to phone calls in my office between parents and students. Parents attended advising sessions, and my colleagues complained of how parents called employers asking why their child was not hired.
Then, in this last decade, the helicopter parent found a friend in the lawn mower parent. These mowing parents pave the way for their children. They use their experience and maturity to ease their child's life of any displeasure. They smooth out any possible kinks before the child can experience disappointment or confusion. Every parent finds themselves "lawn mowing" for their children from time-to-time, but it's a risky parenting philosophy.
"...in this last decade, the helicopter parent found a friend in the lawn mower parent. These mowing parents pave the way for their children. They use their experience and maturity to ease their child's life of any displeasure."
Today, many parents are full on snow plowing. They are in many cases white parents who use their wealth, power, rank, and knowledge to discredit those who may be in a position to upset their child or deny them of what they believe their child has earned. The more recent college admission scandals are unfortunate examples of snow plow parenting. The plowing takes place in emails and conferences with teachers. It's on full display between parents and coaches on the playing field or in private text messages and emails. We see it among parents as it relates to social constructs and social exploration among their children. It manifests in children in their entitled attitudes. Parents demonstrate it as controlling, indignant, egocentric social engineers.
What's social engineering? It's the practice of coordinating and managing your child's friends, play dates, sport team rosters, birthday party guest lists, to name a few. The child does not hold much power or ability to choose -- it is mostly done for them. It's an unfortunate and unhealthy practice as children come into their own and search for friends with whom they have common interests and connections through play, sports, arts, humor and books. In short, social engineering is a form of snow plow parenting.
Simply put...snow plow parenting and social engineering are uniquely American problems. For everyone. The adults turn into controlling, and oftentimes disconnected and overbearing parents, and the children lose the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Children are often denied the organic development of new social connections and relationships.
"What's social engineering? It's the practice of coordinating and managing your child's friends, play dates, sport team rosters, birthday party guest lists, to name a few. The child does not hold much power or ability to choose -- it is mostly done for them."
I fall victim to these parenting practices, too. I'm not claiming to be immune. But, we must recognize that our children's development and mental health are at stake. The number of pre-teens and teens suffering from depression and anxiety is at an all-time high. There are many contributing factors -- social media, technology and isolation. When we are aware of these struggles, we have to empower our children with choice and confidence. Today adolescents struggle to make decisions. They are afraid to make the wrong choice. They fear uncomfortable consequences. As expected, more and more high school graduates are arriving on college campuses not knowing what they want to study.
I have witnessed as both a parent and professional how parents' good intentions are failing their children. How our adult fears are distorting our reality and clouding our judgment. We justify our actions by saying, "I'm being my child's advocate. It's a competitive and harsh world."
True. It is competitive and life is harsh. We cannot expect to shelter or shield our children from the inevitable. There will always be someone out there who is smarter, faster, wealthier, luckier, nicer than you and your children. Let's teach them to work hard, to resolve conflict and to never give up. These are life-long skills that will help them to mature into resilient and gritty adults.
So, the next time you feel the need to start snow plowing, take a deep breath. If there's not a couple inches of snow on the ground, then go back to your couch and watch the flurries. I bet your children will create beautiful snow angels.
NYT: How Parents Are Robbing Their Children of Adulthood
Forbes: College Admissions, Youth Sports, and Parent's Desire to Drive the Snow Plow
U.S. News and World Report: What's Driving the Rise of Teen Depression?
Helicopter Parenting vs. Snow Plow Parenting