How to Avoid Becoming a “Snowplow Parent”

Snowplow Parenting

How to Avoid Becoming a “Snowplow Parent”

We’ve all heard of helicopter parenting – the practice of hovering anxiously near one’s children, monitoring their every movement. Now, experts have identified a new category of parenting, even more extreme in some aspects than helicopter parenting, known as “snowplow parenting”.

So-called snowplow parents, in a similar fashion to their namesake, push forward and clear obstacles, giving their children a clear path for success. Failure and frustration, which are critical to a child’s development, are pushed aside.

Examples of snowplow parenting have been prominent in recent news articles and have risen to the criminal level: bribing SAT proctors and paying off college coaches to get their children into top colleges.

In a similar, yet arguably less extreme vein, snowplow parenting is seen when parents get on wait lists for elite preschools before their babies are born, run an assignment to school or call a coach to request their child make the team. Later on it’s writing a note if they procrastinate on schoolwork, to paying college counselors thousands of dollars to perfect their child’s applications. These parents make it their life’s work to clear any obstacles out of their children’s way.

But what does “success” really mean and what happens to the offspring of snowplow parents? They can become the college freshman who ends up returning home before the year is over because they lack the kind of skills one needs to succeed in college. These children have never faced an obstacle and are then thrust into the real world without any skills or experiences to fall back on when the going gets tough.

Think about where you might be today if you’re greatest trials and tribulations never happened. I, for one, would never give up the lessons I learned from the hardships I endured; those lessons have time-after-time enabled me to navigate, in a healthy and mature way, the day-to-day hardships I encounter.

Learning to solve problems, take risks, and overcome frustration are essential life skills. So, how can we avoid becoming snowplow parents?

First, empathize with your child instead of advising, inquire about their feelings and help them to label their emotions. Providing validation during formative years inspires confidence and lays the groundwork for independent decision making.

Next, ask your child if they’ve contemplated any solutions and help them to brainstorm. At this stage, it is critical not to jump in head first and solve the problem. Try and identify a small step your child can take to put them on the right path to discovering the ultimate solution on their own, with subtle support and guidance along the way.

As parents, let’s stop worrying about how we can guarantee our version of success for our children and focus more on raising independent and resilient children, with a strong but not overpowering, support system.

Authored by: Jennifer Jamgochian, LMSW