At a recent back to school night for my middle school daughter, one of her teachers explained that it is time for our kids to take responsibility for their grades, and each student needed to be personally accountable. He told the classroom of parents that several kids received a zero on an assignment for not completing it on time, but it was a minimal portion of their grade. “The point is for them to understand from the get-go that deadlines are important, and there will be consequences.”
Several parents, including me, subtly checked phones to see if our kids received an F on their first assignment, and there was a lot of grimacing throughout the room. At the end of the session, I remained at my table to fill out some paperwork, and couldn’t help but overhear a conversation another parent was having with the teacher.
“You see, we were out-of-town this weekend, and I think there must have been a misunderstanding. My son always does his work. I’m sure he has it completed now, so he can get partial credit, right?” she said.
I watched as the teacher shook his head no, and I sheepishly handed in my form and left the room. I was a little shocked that after the accountability speech he just gave that anyone would dare try to get a grade changed. I realized at that moment that I’d just witnessed a lawnmower parent.
Lawnmower parents are to older kids what helicopter parents are to the younger set. Helicopter parents hover over their children and swoop in at the first sign of trouble. Lawnmower parents try to “mow down” any obstacle in their kids’ way that may cause disappointment or adversity, essentially creating a generation of kids who are not resilient and incapable of handling problems on their own.
I get it. I had to sit on my car keys at the end of last year when I saw my daughter’s history report, which she worked on the entire weekend, sitting on my kitchen counter. When she texted me right before school started begging for me to bring it to her, I didn’t respond until I knew her phone was tucked away in her locker for the day.
I knew my daughter sometimes got nervous speaking to her teachers and doesn’t like to admit she made a mistake. She struggles with organization and often waits until the last minute to finish things. Every ounce of my being wanted to take the project to her, email her teacher, fix the situation, but instead I simply replied: “Sorry, I was in the shower! I hope it works out! xoxo”
And then I wallowed in guilt for the remainder of the day.
No parent wants to see his or her children struggle or fail—it’s in our DNA to help our kids. But there is long-term damage that is occurring from this type of parenting.
Because many moms and dads are commandeering their children’s academic careers, students are arriving at high school or sometimes even college without any insight as to how to manage relationships with their teachers, counselors or peers. Since many parents have always bailed their children out when they forget assignments, gym clothes, or even their lunch, many kids have no problem-solving abilities and collapse at the first roadblock. And perhaps worse yet, lawnmower parents are producing kids who can’t make any decisions on their own in a complex, dangerous world.
It is painful to watch your kid struggle or be unhappy, but according to a recent viral Facebook post from WeAreTeachers, by interfering, we’re doing the exact opposite. “In raising children who have experienced minimal struggle, we are not creating a happier generation of kids. We are creating a generation that has no what idea what to do when they actually encounter struggle,” the author writes.
When my daughter returned home from school after not turning in her assignment, I immediately asked her what happened.
“I talked to my teacher at lunch and told him that I left my project at home,” she said. “He told me he was glad I spoke to him before class, and that he believed I finished it and would only deduct five points off. With the extra credit I did last week, it shouldn’t hurt my grade at all, but I’ll never forget again. I was so stressed!”
Huh. How about that.
The good news for those of us who find it hard to step back and let our kids fall? You can take baby steps. Encourage your children to communicate with teachers and coaches on their own, have them coordinate their social calendars, and most importantly, let them make mistakes—and figure out how to solve them.
It’s so hard to remember, but making mistakes is the only way we learn, kids included. You may have to sit on your keys like I did, but the payoff will be a stronger, more resilient and—hopefully—happier child.
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