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What Is Snowplow Parenting? This Controversial Method Is Robbing Kids Of Crucial Skills


You know what I do when my kids "forget" a homework assignment? I confiscate the electronics and veto meet-ups with friends until they catch up with the work. You know what I don't do? Do the homework myself, beg the teacher to have mercy on them, or look into transferring them to schools that give less work. I guess I'm not going to be mistaken for a mom who practices snowplow parenting anytime soon, and I'm okay with that.

Not familiar with this term yet? You should be, because you probably know more than a few of these folks. As The New York Times described it not long ago, "snowplow parenting" is the act of making sure children never experience failure, frustration, or setbacks in life. The newly coined term first gained attention earlier this year, when 50 people, including TV actresses Lori Laughlin and Felicity Huffman, were indicted in a college admissions scam. Rather than let their teens get into prestigious universities on their own merits, the parents allegedly bribed the schools to change their children's test scores or recruit them onto their sports teams in order to guarantee their admission.

This brand of parenting is different from the type practiced by "tiger moms." The tigers are the ones pushing their children to maintain a 4.0 average and practice their soccer kicks and piano pieces three hours a day. Snowplow parents don't expect their children to be overachievers; rather, they expect the world to treat their children as if they were. And they're very different from the hovering helicopter parents, who monitor their children's every move out of anxiety over the dangers and disappointments they see lurking around every corner, as Parents explained.

The other element that sets the snowplow parents apart from the rest is power. According to The New York Times, these parents tend to be wealthy or otherwise influential, which makes it easier for them to clear away any obstacles that might get in the way of their children's bright future: a birthday party snub; too much bench time at sports tournaments; a daunting essay assignment. If I tried to persuade an Ivy League college to admit one of my kids on the pretense of being a tennis or basketball star recruit, they'd take one look at my pitiful bank account and laugh in my face.

But while money certainly doesn't hurt when it comes to this breed of parent, we mere peasants can and do our share of snow-pushing. Every time we remind, nudge, and help our children to do something they should be capable of doing or remembering on their own, we're taking away their ability to act independently — and to learn the consequences of their actions, according to parenting experts who spoke to NBC News. When a parent slaps together a baking soda-and-vinegar volcano at 11:00 p.m. because their 4th-grader forgot about the science project that was assigned three weeks ago, one must ask: Exactly where does the learning come in?

The really scary thing is that snowplowing doesn't seem to have a time limit. USA Today recently reported on a poll of parents of children 18 to 28 regarding the help they give. More than three-quarters of parents admitted to reminding their adult children of deadlines for schoolwork and other responsibilities. Almost as many said that they make their children's doctors' appointments. Parents of college students still help them study for tests (22 percent), have written some (11 percent) or all (4 percent) of their essays and assignments, and talked to a professor or administrator about their child's grade or a class problem (8 percent).

Another 15 percent of parents in the poll reported calling or texting their college kids in the morning to make sure they get to a class or test on time. This one got to me. Have teens suddenly become incapable of using alarm clocks? I admit I did the wake-up call for my oldest when he first began high school, but after a few weeks, I told him it was his job to get up on his own. Know what? He did. And still does.

It doesn't even stop there. A little over one in 10 parents in that poll said that if their adult child had a problem at work, they would call their child's boss. Apparently, "Why didn't my child get a better grade?" eventually becomes "Why didn't my child get that promotion?" What next? Will parents start bribing boy- and girlfriends not to break up with their kids? Pull strings to make sure the best obstetrician in town delivers their grandchildren? Or maybe they'll back off a little as their children enter their 30s. You know — keep it to simple stuff like holding their place in line at Wal-Mart at 2 a.m. on Black Friday.

Psychology experts worry that we may be raising a generation of helpless adults, incapable of learning from their mistakes or taking responsibility for themselves, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When we take away all the roadblocks for our children, we deprive them of the experience of encountering those obstacles and the pride of overcoming them. Parenting expert Michele Borba, Ed.D, wisely said in her bestselling The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, "If you've always been rescued or micromanaged, you may have had too little experience in developing such critical life skills as self-reliance, decision-making, and problem-solving."

There's an old saying: "There are two things of value we can give our children: roots and wings." Snowplow parents may have the best of intentions, but they could end up with children who never learn to fly.