The importance of failure in parenting
As generations change, new titles are developed—Baby Boomers, GenX, Millenials— along with parenting techniques. Helicopter parenting, the practice of hovering anxiously near your children, monitoring their every activity, is now considered a thing of the past.
What is Snow Plow Parenting?
The newest parenting term is “snow plow parenting,” which is associated with affluent and middle-class parents who eradicate obstacles in their children’s paths so they aren’t faced with failure or frustration. It’s the “everyone gets a trophy” parenting concept.
Helicopter parenting evolved into “intensive parenting,” which translates to constantly monitoring children and always educating them, filling up afternoons and weekends with lessons, tutors and traveling sports. Snow plow parenting is essentially intensive parenting raised to a higher level.
Studies show that parents now spend more money on child rearing than any previous generation. Other sociological data reveals that working mothers spend as much time doing hands-on activities with their kids as stay-at-home moms did in the 1970s.
Mounting evidence reveals this over-the-top education doesn’t necessarily benefit children, and parents, particularly mothers, are feeling the pressure of being all things to all people. Mothers must excel in the workplace and then come home to be supermom, completing all the activities of a stay-at-home mom in a quarter of the time.
This parenting fervor does not end with high school graduation either. In a new poll of parents with children ages 18 to 28 by The New York Times and Morning Consult, 75% of parents had made appointments for their adult children, such as doctor visits or haircuts, and the same percentage had reminded their kids of deadlines for school. 11% said they would contact their child’s employer if their child had an issue.
16% of those with children in college had texted or called them to wake them up so they didn’t sleep through a class or test. 8% had contacted a college professor or administrator about their child’s grades or a problem they were having.
Toledo-area professors share their experiences
Local professors and administrators confirming this shift in parenting were reluctant to be quoted for this article due to fear of parental backlash.
One administrator at a nearby university admits he regularly receives phone calls from parents about safety concerns. Most of those concerns are unwarranted and amplified by social media, but that doesn’t diminish parental worry and involvement.
A professor at a nearby college confessed that she regularly receives phone calls and emails from parents asking about assignments and grades. They make excuses for their children’s missing work and argue about grades. The professor is often blamed for the mistakes of her students.
Students now “grade” their teachers, explained yet another professor from a local university, who learned quickly that her students’ grades directly impacted their reviews of her. When students earned anything less than an A, the reviews reflected that. While students are ready to take the credit for their high grades, they refuse to accept the blame for less-than-perfect scores.
Operation Varsity Blues
A recent college bribery scandal, code-named Operation Varsity Blues, reveals the extreme— and criminal— choices some parents made to snow plow obstacles from their children’s paths to college. Fifty parents are charged with varying levels of fraud, from bribing SAT proctors to paying off college coaches to get their children into elite colleges. The parents then went to great lengths to ensure their children never realized their involvement and manipulation.
According to the investigation, one father lied about his son being on the water polo team to increase his perceived extracurriculars and his chance at gaining admittance. Another mom paid someone to take the ACT for her son–and then pretended to proctor the test herself, at home, so her son would think he was the test-taker.
How does snow plow parenting begin?
Wondering how “snowplow parenting” begins while raising young children? It starts early, putting your child on a waitlist for an elite preschool, making sure your toddler never encounters frustration on playdates or in the classroom. Once your child enters elementary school, it morphs into running assignments to school when your child forgets, calling teachers when a grade is less than stellar, and confronting a coach when your child doesn’t make the team.
This may seem like acceptable behavior when raising young children, and perhaps it is as they transition into school-age, but at some point, the child needs to learn to deal with failure and become responsible for his/her own choices. When your child forgets a large assignment and is docked points for tardiness, he will learn from his mistake. If he knows mom/dad will bail him out, then he learns that his mistakes do not merit negative consequence and, on a deeper level, he internalizes that someone else is at fault, not him.
Failing to stop the snow plow effect by high school often leads to it continuing into college, and then into the workplace. It’s a parenting habit that is difficult to break. If young adults do not learn life skills by the end of high school, they will be ill-equipped to face the real world in college and beyond.
The GenX and Baby Boomer generations love to complain about Millenials who can’t take responsibility for their actions, assume every mistake is the fault of someone else and are unable to take any sort of criticism.
But did those generations not create the issues commonly associated with Millenials? When “everyone gets a trophy,” is it not surprising Millenials would have a hard time facing any perceived failure, even something as trite as constructive criticism? And if a parent always bailed them out in a time of need, it’s not a stretch to understand how the young adult would have trouble accepting the blame for a mistake. If mom always delivered, and then she didn’t, isn’t it really mom’s fault?
Importance of failure
Learning to solve problems, take risks and overcome frustration are crucial life skills, child development experts say. If parents don’t let their children encounter failure, the children won’t acquire those skills. We learn just as much, if not more, from our mistakes as we do from our successes.
When a first-grader is obligated to eat a lunch he doesn’t like because he forgot his bagged lunch at home, he is much more likely to remember his lunch in the future. When a 20-year-old fails to finish a paper on time and receives a zero, he’s likely not going to make the same mistake again.
We all make mistakes; the true test of growth is whether or not we can learn from and improve on those blunders. Not everyone can be a winner, and no one is perfect. As parents, we perform a disservice to our children if we let them believe anything else.
Young people are experiencing record rates of anxiety, in part due to their lack of problem-solving skills and their inability to experience failure. Clearing the path in order to avoid failure does not help them to develop those important life skills. Instead of preparing the road for the child, we need to focus instead on preparing the child for the road.