Meet the Lawnmower Parent

There’s a new trend at children’s birthday parties: parents banning balloons. It's not because they’re a potential choking hazard or because the kids might inhale the helium, but because parents don’t want the children to experience the disappointment of having a balloon pop or fly away. Trying to eliminate all grief or trauma before it has a chance to happen is what’s become known as “lawnmower parenting.” While it may seem like protecting children from heartbreak is a kind way to parent, removing obstacles before they face them does kids a huge disservice. Kids need to have a lot of balloons pop to learn to cope with small and large discomfort in order to build resilience. Lawnmower parenting shouldn’t be confused with its older cousin, “helicopter parenting.” While helicopter parents react to their own anxiety and fears for kids by hovering over them and keeping a bird’s-eye view of what could happen, lawnmower parents take a more active role in running interference for their kids. Children of lawnmower parents don’t have positive coping strategies for managing stress because they never got to practice while growing up. Worse, lawnmower parenting mismanages children’s expectations about life. Instead of the old mantra “life isn’t fair,” children of lawnmower parents receive the message that any discomfort is an emergency. Parents can begin by recognizing the difference between uncomfortable and unsafe. When a problem won't lead to permanent, scarring damage, they should allow their child to solve the problem on their own. Whether it’s too much sauce on the spaghetti in the college cafeteria or a popped birthday party balloon, kids need to encounter life’s difficulties to prepare them to tackle the big ones as adults.