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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Lawnmower parents raise anxious kids

A middle-school teacher is called to the office so Dad can hand over his child’s water bottle. The girl doesn’t like drinking from the water fountain.

A parent calls to ask for an extension on her son’s project. The teacher, who’s fine with granting extensions, asks why “Josh” didn’t ask for himself. “I just usually handle this kind of thing for him,” Mom replies.

Lawnmower parents, who mow down the obstacles in their children’s paths, aren’t doing their kids any favors, the teacher writes.

She imagines what happens when kids who’ve never had to solve a problem flunk a test in college.

(They won’t) say, “Yikes. I really need to study harder. I’ll reach out to the graduate assistant and see if they know of study groups I can join or other materials I can read to do better on the next one.”

Instead, they’ll “blame the professor” and/or “call home and beg their parents to intervene,” writes the teacher. Or perhaps just give up.

The teacher struggled with anxiety as a child, she writes.

But I can’t imagine how much worse my anxiety would be if my parents had taught me that my anxiety was something to be feared and avoided, not dealt with head-on; had I been raised to shy away from anything outside my comfort zone instead of process and work through my discomfort; had I received the message as a child that my parents—not me—were the only ones equipped to handle the challenges in my life.

Colleges are seeing helpless students with over-involved parents, writes Karen Fancher, a Duquesne professor. They’re known as lawnmower, snowplow or bulldozer parents, but “curling” parents is her favorite term, “given the similarity to the Olympic athletes who scurry ahead of the gently thrown stone, frantically brushing a smooth path and guiding the stone towards an exact pre-determined location.”

Amanda Stern’s new book, Little Panic: Dispatches From An Anxious Life, shows “what can happen when children with anxiety don’t have the chance to develop effective coping skills,” writes Gina, on Love, Hope and Coffee.

Stern’s mother didn’t let her work through her fears. Instead:

(1) She reassured Stern that bad things did not happen to kids, and (2) She removed or mitigated situations that Stern found challenging, from letting her switch schools to hiring special tutors and getting her out of homework assignments

As an adult, Stern learned she had to face her fears.

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