Snowplow parents prevent their children from ever growing up

snowplow on road at night
Public Domain MaxPixel

Doing everything for a kid doesn't set them up for success.

First came the helicopter parenting of the 1980s, when parents were fearful that their child might get kidnapped on the way to school. This was followed by the intensive parenting of the 1990s, when extracurriculars and constant teaching became de rigeur. The 2000s brought the lawnmower parents, who not only monitored their kids closely and filled every extra hour with tutoring, but also made a point of smoothing the way for their children to avoid uncomfortable bumps.

Just when you thought parenting couldn't get any more extreme, we now have the snowplow parents of the 2010s. These parents clear everything out of their child's way, doing all the leg work that would normally be considered an essential part of growing up, and shielding the truth of it from their child, who's clueless as to what it took to get them to a certain point.

The recent college admissions scandal is a perfect example of this. Roughly 30 families engaged in wide-ranging fraud to ensure their child got into a top college in the United States by falsifying SAT/ACT scores and lying about sports skills. As Madeline Levine, psychologist and author of Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More Than Grades, Trophies or 'Fat Envelopes', told the New York Times,

"[This scandal has] just highlighted an incredibly dark side of what has become normative, which is making sure that your kid has the best, is exposed to the best, has every advantage — without understanding how disabling that can be."

Because 'disabling' it certainly is. A child who has been cheated of the opportunity to grow and learn through normal obstacles and failures does not really ever become an adult in the true sense. They continue to rely on their snowplow parent well into their adult years because they are incapable of functioning otherwise. The smallest details crush them and, according to Levine, send them home early from college. One sad example:

"One [student] didn’t like to eat food with sauce. Her whole life, her parents had helped her avoid sauce, calling friends before going to their houses for dinner. At college, she didn’t know how to cope with the cafeteria options — covered in sauce."

She dropped out. The pathetic irony of it is that her parents thought they were doing her a favor by snowplowing the road to make her journey easier, and yet in doing so failed to build resilience. She should have been prepared for the road, not the other way around. Sauce is everywhere. You'll never escape it.

I understand that the college situation is abysmal in the U.S., with the number of applications doubling since the 1970s and the number of spots remaining virtually the same at top-tier schools. Making the situation more dire is the decline in income potential. From the New York Times,

"Children born in 1950 had an 80 percent chance of making more money than their parents, according to work by a team of economists led by Raj Chetty at Harvard. Those born in 1970 had a 61 percent chance. But since 1980, children are as likely as not to earn less than their parents did."

So it's no wonder that parents are obsessed with doing all they can to guarantee a good professional start to their child's life. But an education counts for little if a young adult lacks real-life skills, and that's where parents need to readjust their thinking.

Set your kid up for success by first giving them a great childhood that's enjoyable, memorable, stable. Then prepare them to tackle obstacles by – no surprise here – expecting them to tackle obstacles on their own. Require them to make their own tough phone calls, write their own explanatory notes, set their own alarms, meet their own deadlines – and then pay the consequences of failing to do so. Believe me, a kid who sleeps through an exam will only do it once.

Lenore Skenazy of Let Grow suggests thinking of all the people you know and admire who didn't attend top-notch schools, or maybe didn't go to college at all. There are so many other ways to define success in life, but it all begins with knowing how to function on a basic level – feeding and cleaning oneself, communicating, staying accountable, etc. These are the most valuable lessons we can give our kids – and they don't cost a thing.

Snowplow parents prevent their children from ever growing up
Doing everything for a kid doesn't set them up for success.

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