In my December 19 blog post, I discussed an article that offered parents a list of life lessons to teach their kids before the kids go to college. One lesson that was not included in that list but probably should have been was, “learn how to solve your own problems”.
Carolyn O’Laughlin, Director of Student Life at Sarah Lawrence College, likely would agree with me on the need for this lesson. In a recent Washington Post column, O’Laughlin described a new phenomenon called “snowplow parents”, which she defined as “those who not only hover like helicopter parents but also plow ahead to preemptively eliminate any obstacles from their child’s path.”
O’Laughlin wrote that, as a college administrator, she has dealt with many snowplow parents. She argued that modern technology is contributing to the phenomenon: because it has become so easy for college students to contact their parents, when students alert their parents to a problem, some parents respond by trying to solve it themselves.
The irony is that parents who sweep in to plow away their children’s problems actually are creating a roadblock in their kids’ journey to becoming mature, independent adults. And that journey is one that ideally should begin before students leave for college, not once they get there, as O’Laughlin seemed to argue.
How, exactly, can you help your kids advance on that journey as opposed to hindering them? One area in which many parents are tempted to problem-solve for their children is when adults are involved. Resist the temptation to do this. For example, if your son gets a grade he thinks he didn’t deserve, encourage him to talk to the teacher, instead of simply picking up the phone to call the teacher yourself. Or if your daughter’s soccer coach doesn’t put her in the game, rather than verbally attacking the coach, suggest that your daughter ask the coach what she can do to improve her skills so she can play next time. You can brainstorm with your kids to help them figure out what to say in such situations and even can offer to role-play the conversations.
While these kinds of interactions can be intimidating for young people, learning how to successfully navigate them helps kids become strong self-advocates — a skill that will be useful to them in college, in the workplace, and in life. Because, really, what’s going to happen when your child has finished college, moved to a new city and gotten a job, and has an argument with her boss? Are you going to hop on a plane, storm into the boss’s office, and demand that he treat your kid better? I certainly hope not.
So, before you turn into a dreaded snowplow parent like the ones O’Laughlin wrote about, take a step back and give your children practice in solving their own problems. They may not appreciate this approach now, but chances are they’ll be grateful to you later on. And you’ll be glad your kids don’t call you every time the toilet clogs or the air conditioning breaks.