Modern parenting styles: Which are you?

Helicopter, Tiger, Free-Range, Lawnmower… Early Childhood expert, Dr. Sheryl Ziegler, talks about four modern parenting styles and the impacts they’re having on children.

modern parenting styles

You may have heard of this new term called Lawnmower Parenting. A teacher wrote a 900 word blog post about this new style of parenting in August 2018 that they had been observing and the country went nuts for it. Clearly it struck a nerve; why else would one anonymous blog post go viral and cause parents, educators and mental health professionals everywhere to immediately resonate with one word: Lawnmower.

The term is fairly self-explanatory, it simply means that parents today will mow down obstacles so that their kids won’t have to endure adversity. Just like that, we have a new parenting style. This simple definition had parents abuzz as they wondered where the Tiger Moms, Helicopter Parents and Free-Range Parents were now. Had they themselves all turned into Lawnmowers?

Well, before we judge today’s parent, it’s important to understand who parents were before us to understand how we ended up mowing things down for our kids. Let’s start with the Helicopter Mom. Though this term was actually referenced in a book published in 1969, the term was coined in 1990 when the rise of parents hovering over their children became evident in college aged students. Professors and other people in positions of authority started reporting how involved parents were and couldn’t believe the level of over involvement that they were witnessing. The concern about the lack of self-sufficiency and entitlement in young adults was something that educators were concerned about over 20 years ago.

Almost as a counterpoint, what followed in popularity (and also controversy) was the Free-Range Parent. If hovering over your child’s every move was not a good idea then how about encouraging freedom, autonomy and independence? Though this term was first referred to in text in the 1940’s, Lenore Skenazy popularized it in 2008 when she wrote a column about allowing her 9-year-old son to ride a New York City subway alone. The response caused an uproar of opinions ranging from support to accusations of child neglect. Ten years later, American parents can’t quite decide what they think about allowing children the freedom to play in parks alone, walk home from school unattended or be allowed to play outside unsupervised.

Then came the Tiger Mom. In 2011, Amy Chua published Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother. Chua, a Yale law professor, shared with the world her strict style of parenting that required excellence of her children. This memoir caused a huge debate over whether an authoritarian style of parenting in which children are pushed and pressured to high achievement is harmful to children’s emotional and social development.

And now here we are today, debating whether parents are Lawnmowers. You may be wondering if it even matters; if we should be labeling parents according to the decisions they make about raising their own children. Personally, I think these labels do matter. They represent our collective conscious at any given time, even if people are divided on their thoughts about any particular style.

The overall concern today, regardless of what you label the parenting style to be, is that well-intentioned parents are risking their children’s future happiness and success by shielding them from struggles. This does not make for a happier child. It makes for an insecure, overly dependent generation of teenagers and young adults who are not prepared for failure and disappointment or equipped with problem-solving capabilities.

And in case “young adulthood” feels far off for you as you read this, the negative side effects of overprotecting your child start in grade school. You know what I’m talking about; parents who think participation trophies are only fair. Parents who don’t like the competitive nature of overscheduling their kids but still do it because they fear their child will be lacking. Parents who hire drivers, tutors, private coaching and music instructors to fill every waking hour of their child’s life. They simply want “the best” for their child. At least that is what I hear.

But here is what happens to today’s Lawnmower parent generation of kids… they don’t trust themselves. They fear taking risks for fear of failure, so they avoid the risk all together. They have epidemic rates of depression, anxiety and suicide. They feel pressure and don’t know what to do so they turn to social media and other things in order to ‘switch off’ and become addicted. They don’t understand perseverance or acceptance of responsibility. It’s always someone else’s fault. Fear. Avoidance. Discomfort. That is what happens when you raise a child to not have to face adversity.

So, whether you’re a Helicopter, Tiger, Free-Ranger, Lawnmower, something else or a little bit of everything, just remember that one of the best things you can do for your child is to not shield them from life’s inevitable struggles. Just be present and emotionally available when they need you. While you can help them brainstorm solutions and devise plans, in the end, just let them work through issues themselves. Let them experience challenges and then allow them to feel the tremendous pride that comes along with solving a problem on their own. Confidence. Resourcefulness. Responsibility. This is what happens when you allow your child to navigate the world with your support rather than clearing paths for them so that they never face real experiences and challenges.