Helicopter parenting, meet lawnmower parenting: 'I see it every day'

Lawnmower parents go to great lengths to mow down any obstacles their children might face, protecting them from things like failure, struggle, challenges or other types of adversity or difficulty.

First there was helicopter parenting, a style that's stereotypically characterized by parents who hover or closely monitor their child's activities and habits. Now, there's a growing trend in parenting that takes takes these characteristics up a notch. Lawnmower parenting is generating a lot of buzz, and growing concern in communities around the country.

It's not necessarily a new concept, but it's one that counselors and psychologists acknowledge they're seeing more and more in recent generations.

What is 'lawnmower parenting?'

Unlike helicopter parents who often just hover, lawnmower parents go to great lengths to mow down any obstacles their children might face in any aspect of life, protecting them from things like failure, struggle, challenges or other types of adversity or difficulty.

The idea is often innocent, coming from parents who want to make things easier for their child or clear the way for a path to success, but experts warn that the grass isn't always greener that way.

"You see the behavior in the parents; their approach and strategy to parenting, but the impact is in the child," Ruth said. "I see it every day. The child is the one who grows up to learn some very tough lessons in their 20's, 30's, low 40's and beyond."

The grass isn't always greener: Why lawnmower parenting can be harmful

"You're stealing something from them," said Melissa Ruth, a licensed clinical professional counselor. "You're often in many ways removing your child's skill-building in their own development in multiple ways. The consequences are then like a cascading effect as they get older."

Essentially, mental health professionals say that removing struggle and suffering from a child's life can hinder their ability to learn to do things for themselves, and can make it hard for them to then build confidence in their abilities. The impacts can be different on every child who grows up with the influence of a lawnmower parent, but in extreme cases, kids can grow up not knowing how to do things for themselves.

"They can't get out the door on their own, they can't feed themselves without someone doing it for them, they can't get out of bed without someone to do it for them," Ruth said.

In other cases, the impacts may be felt more as a child becomes an adult, forced to fend for themselves on a more regular basis. Often times, counselors say they see children of lawnmower parents struggle both in school and in the workplace.

"The complaints I've heard from employers are entitlement and laziness, Ruth said. "They feel entitled to be doing their own thing on their own time at work,...they have a really hard time with rigid rules, practices, policies and structures, because they've been used to having someone able to wiggle them out of those things."

Perhaps worse, psychologists say this parenting style can often lead to things like low self-esteem, depression and alienation, in kids, young adults and adults alike.

"How this is going to play out over several generations is going to be interesting to see, and not in a good way 'interesting,'" Ruth said.

Where does this come from?

While experts will agree that the impacts of this style of parenting are becoming more evident within the past couple of generations, many will say it hasn't been around long enough to be able to study and pinpoint where it came from.

However, many experts are starting to look at the roll played by anxiety, or parenting habits in previous generations.

"A lot of researchers are saying, you know, the first generation of lawnmower parents are the first kids who grew up with divorced parents, who grew up with parents who were consistently working outside of the home," Ruth said. That, she added, often encourages those parents to create a different environment for their child where they may be more involved.

"You see parents who are far more anxious about a school project than their child is, and parents who are far more worried about 'are you going to get that application in?' or, 'are you going to get into that school?'" Ruth said.

Long-term impacts

The behavior characterized by lawnmower parenting can begin even when children are just toddlers. In the early developmental phases of their lives, Ruth explains, toddlers are easily molded by the actions of their parents and those around them.

"Once a child starts to use their voice to express themselves, their wants and needs how does a parent handle that? How accommodating is a parent, how controlling is a parent?" she asks.

In addition to the harmful effects on the child or adult who is raised by the lawnmower parent type, Ruth also warns that the effects can carry over into future generations.

"You may see some reactionary parenting in those future generations of parents raised by lawnmower parents, where they could almost neglect their child in away, or they could continue the process," Ruth said.

Personally, Ruth has had more parents coming to her to address their child-rearing techniques, which she says is a promising start to working through the issues that can arise.

Helping vs. hindering: Finding the line

Lawnmower parenting can be hard to identify, especially because it is becoming so widespread in society.

"It's sad that that surprises me when youth are sufficient and independent in ways they should be more sufficient and independent," Ruth said.

While she acknowledges that it's okay to do nice and helpful things for your children, she stresses the importance of making them learn to work through difficult situations, so that they can take those lessons and transfer them to other scenarios that arise later in life.

Doing the yard work

So, we know there can be consequences, but the task of changing parental behavior can be incredibly daunting and overwhelming. The first step comes just with recognizing the problem.

"As parents, you have to pull your head out of denial," Ruth said. "It's a hard thing to look at in ourselves. I think for parents it's the most important thing we do in our lives, and it's deeply deeply important to us."

From there, parents and children have to work together to restructure their relationship, and slowly start to change expectations, starting from the ground up.

"Choose something you can improve and improve on it," Ruth said. "Do it with love. Let your child know, 'hey, I've been doing this and some of this is not helpful to you. Maybe in the short-term it feels better for both of us, but it's not teaching you character and grit, so I'm going to try to do better with it.'"

Licensed counselors or psychologists can also give families a launch pad to work off of. But regardless, in order to mow down the trend, professionals say to take the process one step at a time.

"I don't think this is going to be a revolution," Ruth said. "This is going to be, we're going to continue to see the negative impact in the workforce and in the longevity of relationships and families. We're going to see this decline and say 'why is this happening?' Then one by one, book by book, bestseller by best seller, (to) interviews on the night show, people are going to start talking about it and it's going to be one by one."

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