Are Snow Plow Parents to Blame for the Cheating Scandal?

robertHere’s a different take on the college admissions scandal where wealthy parents have been bribing coaches, athletic directors and SAT proctors to get their kids into the schools of their dreams—maybe it’s not the fault of being a snowplow parent after all.

In an article from Psychology Today, written by Daniel R. Stalder Ph.D. called “Are We Overreacting to Snowplow Parenting?” he makes the point, “We may not want to shame all snowplow parents over the admissions scandal.”

In the recent college admissions scandal, some wealthy parents allegedly bribed and lied to get their kids into certain colleges. Although we’ve known for a long time that kids from wealthy families have advantages in higher education, the criminal element of this story is new. Parents are getting arrested.

Many of us have criticized these parents for such behavior. But along the way, some of us have gone further by criticizing their general parenting style.

As a professor, I’ve had to deal with cases of student cheating, such as smuggling cell phones into tests or copying a classmate’s answers. Such behaviors are wrong, but I don’t extend this judgment to other aspects of the students’ lives, such as how they study or take lecture notes. Is it different for judging parents who break the law?

Maybe. I’m definitely not trying to defend the alleged behavior. But several recent authors in The New York Times and elsewhere have gone further by using the scandal as a jumping-off point to criticize “snowplow” parents in general. In my view, everyday parents who seem to snowplow or hover get criticized enough without unfairly grouping them into a high-profile scandal.

Snowplow parents are usually described as parents who clear their child’s way of every obstacle, or shield their child from any stress or failure. Helicopter parents are similarly described as wanting to “ensure their children’s success” (Darlow, 2017). A common criticism of all these parents includes the adage that we learn and grow from our mistakes and failures.

I like the fact that this writer makes the distinction that the parents who broke the law aren’t just snow plow parents — they are doing something beyond annoying — they are acting immorally and illegally. While we helicopter and snow plowers may cross the line on what is helpful to our kids, we stop way before the illegal line.

In my profession, if I get a call from a parent demanding I change their child’s grade, does that mean this parent is a snowplow parent? If a student makes a similarly unreasonable demand, does that mean they were raised by a snowplow parent? I don’t know.

My first point is that there is an inability to see the whole at-home story based on a single behavior. This is partly to say that a particular parent might seem to fit a parenting label in one context but not another (Stalder, 2018). But even if the label fits a parent in general, I’ve observed other biases in criticizing snowplow (and helicopter) parenting. These biases include the strawman fallacy, dichotomous thinking, the converse error, and just not considering individual differences in children.

I enjoy that the article discusses the fact that it’s not a one or the other situation. It’s not black or white. I think that’s true for me. I may hover in one area, and not in another. We are after all trying to do our best to raise healthy, happy and successful kids. Maybe we need a break on the labels and blame? kat

Anyone else agree? What are your thoughts about the snow plow and helicopter labels on parents?

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Helicopter Parents: Hover a Few Feet Higher

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My kiddos jumping in the waves in Laguna Bach, CA.

I received a question from a swim mom the other day about families that team hop. “Why do they often want to destroy the team they left behind?” she wondered. This mom said that if her own family were to make a decision about leaving, they’d do it and not look back. Their decision would be their own and they wouldn’t need to tear down the team or coach. I wrote about that question in an “Ask Swim Mom” story. You can read it here.

I received a text from a swim and dance mom friend who read the story and whose daughter went to college with mine. She said it’s easier for us to see a better way to handle things because our girls are no longer involved. “For these people it’s still very personal and real.”

That’s it. It’s all so personal when your kids are young and you’re involved. I regret many things I did–not only as a swim mom–but as a school parent, too. Every day I didn’t need to put on armor and fight each battle. Some things could have been left alone. I really felt the need to solve each issue, from a parent not fulfilling volunteer commitments on the swim team, to a teacher who wasn’t great at teaching. I wish I would have known that “this too shall pass.” I barely remember what caused me such inner turmoil in younger years with my kids.

Relax, stand back, and enjoy each memory you’re creating with your family. If we could convince newer parents to take a step back and not hover quite so closely, they might be able to enjoy parenting even more. I think it’s okay to helicopter parent, just do it from a higher altitude so you can see the big picture.

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What regrets do you have as a parent or in life? What would you do over if you had a second chance?

What is “intensive parenting” and is it the norm?

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My cute kiddos.

I’m not quite sure what the difference is between helicopter and intensive parents, but according to a recent study by a researcher at Cornell University, “intensive” parenting is what most parents view as “good parenting” regardless of their educational or socioeconomic status. In fact, it’s becoming the norm. In an article by Joe Pinsker from The Atlantic called ‘Intensive’ Parenting Is Now the Norm in America, he states that “This style of child-rearing that most aspire to takes a lot of time and money, and many families can’t pull it off.”

Here’s are a few paragraphs from the article:

Supervised, enriching playtime. Frequent conversations about thoughts and feelings. Patient, well-reasoned explanations of household rules. And extracurriculars. Lots and lots of extracurriculars.

These are the oft-stereotyped hallmarks of a parenting style that has been common in upper-middle-class households for at least a generation. But according to a recent survey, this child-rearing philosophy now has a much broader appeal, one that holds across race and class. The survey, which polled roughly 3,600 parents of children ages 8 to 10 who were demographically and economically representative of the national population, found evidence that hands-on parenting is not just what the well-off practice—it’s what everyone aspires to.

Intensive is the adjective that researchers, including Patrick Ishizuka, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University who published the survey results late last year, use to describe this model of raising kids. It’s difficult to nail down precisely when it became the standard that so many American parents hold themselves to, but its approach seems built for an era of widening economic inequality, in which the downsides of a child falling behind economically are the largest they’ve been in generations.

Intensive parenting is a style of child-rearing fit for an age of inequality, indicative of a stratified past, present, and future. The past: As some social scientists have theorized, the tilt toward intensive parenting originated at least in part from parents’ anxieties about their children competing for education and jobs. (The more extracurriculars, the logic of intensive parenting goes, the better the odds of getting into an excellent college and of securing one of the high-paying jobs that America cordons off for the best-credentialed.) The present: As Ishizuka described, intensive parenting is an ideal that’s currently out of reach for many families. And the future: Practiced as it is by some families but not others, it might replicate—or even widen—inequities in future generations.

Many children surely benefit from being raised like this—concerted cultivation can serve them well later in life, teaching them how to manage their time and assert their individuality. But heavily involved parenting can at the same time stunt kids’ sense of self-reliance, and overcommitted after-school schedules can leave them exhausted. Also, there is some evidence that parents who overdo it increase the risk that their children will grow up to be depressed and less satisfied with life. And on the parents’ side, the intensive ideal can lead parents—particularly mothers—to fear that they aren’t doing enough to give their child the best future possible.

I am sure that this style of parenting is what my husband and I followed with our kids. We were big on extracurriculars, spending quality time with our kids and having lengthy discussions of what we considered to be morally right or wrong. But, from there, I went overboard to helicoptering. I couldn’t let my kids fail for the life of me. If it meant arguing with teachers over a second-grade continent test (where I finally learned that Artic is spelled Arctic — my bad!) or sending an email to the AP history teacher in high school demanding that the 89.9% be rounded up to a 90% and an A, I definitely passed the line from “intensive” to “copter.” At least I can look back on what I did and see the errors of my ways. We get a laugh about it today with the kids. They know I had their best interests in mind and wasn’t trying to sabotage their adulthood.

If you want more details about the study on “intensive” parenting, read the press release from Cornell University here.

In an article by Susan Kelley in a Cornell publication called “Hands-on, intensive parenting is best, most parents say,” she gives more details:

Regardless of their education, income or race, most parents say a child-centered, time-intensive approach to parenting is the best way to raise their kids, a Cornell researcher has found.

The findings suggest intensive parenting has become the dominant model for how parents across the socio-economic spectrum feel children should be raised – regardless of whether the parent has the resources to actually do so.

“This points to exceptionally high standards for how parents should raise their kids. It suggests that parents are experiencing significant pressure to spend great amounts of both time and money on children,” said Patrick Ishizuka, the author of “Social Class, Gender, and Contemporary Parenting Standards in the United States,” published Dec. 22 in Social Forces.

Most parents also said intensive parenting is the ideal approach for both mothers and fathers, and applies to parenting boys and girls, according to the study.

“It’s remarkable just how widespread support is for intensive parenting, in terms of social class and gender,” added Ishizuka, the Frank H.T. Rhodes Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Population Center.

Researchers in the field have known that parents with low incomes and less education tend to spend less time and money on children than parents with higher incomes and more education. But it hadn’t been clear whether that’s because they lack resources or because they prefer a different approach to childrearing. Ishizuka’s study is the first to directly address the question using a nationally representative survey, by asking parents of different social classes what they consider “good parenting.”

Ishizuka analyzed data from more than 3,600 study participants who were parents. The participants read about various scenarios in which a mother or father interacts with a child between the ages of 8 and 10. The vignettes focused on the child’s leisure activities, how the parent speaks to the child and how the family interacts with professionals in institutions like schools or a doctor’s office. The participants then ranked the parent’s behavior from “excellent” to “poor.”

Each scenario described one of two approaches to parenting: concerted cultivation (an intensive parenting approach) or natural growth (a non-intensive parenting approach). In concerted cultivation, parents facilitate their child’s participation in extracurricular activities, play with them at home, ask them about their thoughts and feelings, and respond to misbehavior with discussion and explanations. In contrast, parents taking the natural growth approach set rules for their children’s safety but give them flexibility to play on their own or with friends. Parents are less involved in the children’s activities and give them clear directives with little room for negotiation.

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A more recent pic.

What are your thoughts about intensive vs. natural growth approaches to parenting? Is intensive parenting something you approve of? And have you ever crossed the line into the realm of helicopter parenting?

Top Parenting Tip: Don’t help too much!

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I saw this tweet first thing this morning and it stuck with me all day. My kids are in their early 20s and if I had a do-over, I’d do less for them, not more. I love being a mom and my kids survived my over-parenting and have flourished. But I failed them over and over by doing too much along the way. When they are experiencing pain or a rough patch now, I look back and wish I hadn’t been such a helicopter or lawn mower parent and they’d have experienced more difficulties in their earlier years.

What drives parents to do everything for their kids? Here are six reasons why we do too much for our kids–taken from my own experience and observing other parents:

ONE
We want to shield our kids from pain and hurt.

TWO
We want our kids to have the brightest futures possible — and only we can guarantee that by our constant hovering and interference.

THREE
We’re afraid to let our kids fail. This is the exact opposite of what we need to do. Let them fail while they’re young, when the consequences aren’t so big.

FOUR
Peer pressure. We want to be a super parent, like those we see around us at school or in their sports.

FIVE
We do all the work around the house because their schedules are so busy. (Like ours aren’t?)

SIX
We make every decision for them, allowing them to miss the development of good decision-making skills as they grow.

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What reasons do you see for parents doing too much for their kids?

 

 

What’s the Difference Between a Helicopter and Lawnmower Parent?

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My almost grown-up kiddos.

In “How to tell if you’re a Lawnmower Parent and what to do about it,” Sarah Cottrell explains the difference between Helicopter Parents and Lawnmowers. Unlike the hovering helicopters, lawnmowers remove all the obstacles of life thrown in front of their kids. Their kids don’t have to suffer hurt feelings, hard effort or any of life’s disappointments—at least that’s the goal of Lawnmower parents.

I am guilty of being both at different times. I didn’t let my kids fail. I complained to teachers when they got grades that I felt were unfair. I rescued them both with forgotten swim bags, lunches and homework assignments. I’m looking at these things now and wish I could have a “do over” because it’s painful to watch them struggle into “adulting.”

I do believe the one place my kids had to figure things out on their own was in the pool. Their effort was directly related with how well they did. Or, in the case of my son, who had chronic sinus infections and asthma—he learned that sometimes life was not fair. They both learned that you can work really, really hard and you get sick. Or injured. Things in life don’t goes as planned. We really need to let our kids experience life with the highs and lows, success and failures, so they can be competent adults able to fend for themselves.

Here are excerpts from the article written by Cottrell:

Helicopter Parents have reigned supreme in the media these last few years but they’re being replaced by a hyper-concentrated version of themselves with a new moniker: Lawnmower Parents. If you’ve never heard of lawnmower parents, take a seat now because you’re about to have some strong feelings.

Lawnmowers don’t just hover over their kids to make sure that they are safe, they obliterate any whiff of a struggle for their kids by curating every aspect of their childhoods. These parents tend to do extreme things, such as choose their child’s friends, practice “redshirting” to ensure their child’s early academic ease and success, and even jump into arguments on their child’s behalf to prevent their kid from having hurt feelings. 

In 2015, a Harris Poll for The JED Foundation, Partnership for Drug-Free Kids and The Jordan Porco Foundation surveyed 1,502 first year college students and found that a staggering 60% of them reported feeling emotionally underprepared for the real world.

“When parents try to remove all obstacles for kids, they are doing them a great disservice,” Samantha Rodman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, and author of How to Talk to Your Kids About Your Divorce tells Mashable. “Kids need to learn that they are competent and have agency in the world. If their parents pave the way for them to have an effortless life, then what will they do when an effort is required in adulthood?”

In some ways, I can’t blame parents for feeling compelled to turn to extreme measures. Where keyboard warriors may see arrogance, I see parents who live in pressure cookers to get parenting not just right, but better than everyone else. As a mother of three, I can understand the impulse to create a soft landing for my children when it comes to school, friends, and the world at large, but often that parental impulse blows up in our faces anyway. 

“This is all about fear, and worry, and wanting to do our best by our families,” Says KJ Dell’Antonia, author of How to Be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life and Loving (Almost) Every Minute and former lead writer and editor for the Motherlode blog at TheNew York Times. “I’d never call it vanity. I think we’re just afraid that if we do less than the next person, our kids will end up living under a highway somewhere because all the clear paths we used to see to success have been muddied by change, technology, and the economy. Scary times, scared parents.”

She’s right. At a time when technology is moving at warp speed, the kinds of jobs that my kids will soon be training for don’t even exist yet as I type these words. How can I imagine future stability for my kids when I can’t even comprehend the social or economic demands that will be made on them?

Amy Joyce, editor, and writer for the Washington Post’s On Parenting section tells Mashable that the best way for parents to prevent themselves from becoming lawnmower parents is to get out and connect with their communities.   

“I love to ask parents of older kids or grown kids what they did in whatever situation it is I’m facing at the moment. I seek out advice and find that helps me bond with people,” Joyce tells Mashable. “The best thing my neighbor with three grown kids has told me is that my kids are going to be okay. No matter the issue, they are who they are and we’ll guide them, but we can’t do everything for them. Hearing that and telling myself that allows me to back off a bit.”

Raising children is tough, but it doesn’t have to be a pressure-cooker of stress to get every aspect just right. While I may secretly want my kid to be the strongest, smartest, kindest, best one out there, the fact is that he won’t understand how he fits in this world if I am interfering. So if you need me, I’ll be standing by and wincing with a knot in my stomach while my kids screw up left and right.

It’s painful to stand by and watch your kids fail. But, let them fail when the stakes aren’t so high. If my son failed a class or two for not getting out of bed on time, or forgetting to turn in homework, I feared he’d never get into college. So what did I do? I woke him up, made sure he had his homework done, etc. He was hugely successful and won all the awards from grade school through high school. But when he did go to college, he failed his freshman year of college at a cost of $30,000. That’s because I failed him as a parent. He wasn’t prepared for the responsibility. It was overwhelming to be in charge of food, transportation, laundry, etc. and school. He looks back on it and believes he wasn’t ready for college. He wasn’t and that was my fault.

What consequences have you let your kids experience while they’re young? Do you fear that by not being perfect they won’t get into the college of their dreams? Do you believe that is one reason why parents resort to becoming Helicopter and Lawnmower parents?

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She’s leaving me again


IMG_8520Four years ago to the day, we drove our youngest to college. I was teary-eyed when we said our final goodbyes. I wrote about the experience complete with our text messages here. Roll the calendar four full years later—years filled with joy, heart, excitement and anxiety—and she’s getting ready to leave me again.

I remember when we dropped our son, the firstborn, off at college. It was heartbreaking to me. I cried like I was losing a limb. With our youngest, the tears poured down my cheeks, but I was able to get myself somewhat under control.

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My son all grown up.

I’ve got mixed emotions this week. She came home after taking her last two college classes in Paris and Rome. I’m used to having her here even though it’s only been two short weeks. I’m used to having her dog Waffles with me, too.  He’s spent every day since the middle of May with me. Olive the cat is the only member of the household who will be celebrating when Waffles walks out the door. I say I have mixed emotions because I’m excited for her. Also, she reminded me that even I can drive to her house to visit! She says “even I” because I’m notoriously a bad driver and have anxiety on freeways. But, it’s not that far away.

At the moment, my daughter is packing her car. Tomorrow morning she’ll leave for good, moving to her new home in Arizona and ready to take on adulthood. Am I ready for this? Is she ready for it? Oh my. I’ll let you know how it all goes.

I will for the first time in my life, seriously have an empty nest.

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I’m seriously going to miss this boy.

How did you feel when you said goodbye to your kids?

What is the purpose of parenting?

robert 1Isn’t that an interesting question? I heard this asked and answered during the recent David Benzel seminar that I listened to last week on whether parents should push their kids. Benzel is a sports parenting coach and he’s written several books including From Chump to Champ and works with many youth sports organizations.

Benzel said this question has been answered by Madeline Levine PhD, who is the author of two books I ordered today from AmazonSmile. (FYI, AmazonSmile gives a small percentage of purchases to whatever nonprofit organization you choose. Mine goes to the Piranha Swim Team, which we’ve been affiliated with for more than 18 years.)

Here are the books by Levine:

Teach Your Children Well: Parenting for Authentic Success

The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids

After I read them I’ll report back to you on what I learned.

Back to the question, “What is the purpose of parenting?” Another way to phrase this is what do we want for our children? How does parenting serve our highest purpose? Here are the three objectives Levine expresses in her book The Price of Privilege that we should help our children achieve:

ONE
Lead independent lives.

TWO
Maintain loving relationships.

THREE
Enjoy a sense of competence.

Isn’t that impressive? In order to become functioning adults, we want our kids to be independent of us. We desire them to have loving relationships because that is the essence of happiness in our lives. Also, we want them to be good at something they enjoy. That’s another area where people lead productive happy lives. How do we go about helping our kids become independent, loving and competent people?

According to Benzel, our style of parenting makes a difference. There are four parenting types. The two worst are Tiger and Helicopter parents. Next is the Supplier and the best, which we need to aspire to be, is the Hero.

Here’s a breakdown of the four parenting types and the consequences:

The helicopter parent hovers and protects. We—yes I’m using the word “we”—aren’t allowing our kids to experience life without us making sure they never fail. They become too dependent upon the opinions of others and risk hurt feelings if people don’t think they’re the best. They also may develop a sense of superiority.

If you’re a tiger parent, you’re in command and have total control. Your children will grow up believing that they are how they perform and therefore a project. They will believe that if they aren’t performing, they are worthless in your eyes and aren’t loved.

Supplier parents are more concerned with their own lives than their kids. They pay the bills, sign kids up for sports and make sure they go to school, but they aren’t spending much time with them. They’re waiting for those 18 years to be over. The child may feel like an inconvenience, but actually, they’ll learn to be independent and self-reliant. However, how awful would it be to feel like a circumstance and a problem?

The best option is to be the hero parent. According to Benzel, the hero gives their child the message “you are a beautiful creation and therefore valuable and full of potential.” They give their children unconditional love with no strings attached. The children grow up accepting themselves and able to rise to challenges. These parents encourage their child’s interests. They don’t worry about performance and they let their kids learn from their mistakes.

It sounds simple, right? Knowing how we should parent is the first step in becoming the best parent we can be. Now, if only I had learned this years ago. I can still apply the hero parent approach today. Better late than never.

What is your goal as a parent?

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FYI: I discovered Benzel from USA Swimming, which is our national federation for swimming from first-time beginners to Olympians. His sports parenting website where you can join and get his newsletters, webinars and books is called “Growing Champions for Life.” Yes, I’m a big fan. I wish I discovered him about 15 years ago instead of after my kids were done age group swimming.

From their website “Growing Champions for Life Inc.® was created as a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the youth sports experience. We nurture the bond between sports parents and their children by providing parents with positive and practical strategies for playing their role as a sports parent effectively through the gift of unconditional love and the pursuit of personal excellence.”