The college admissions scandal has sparked renewed interrogation of intensive and overbearing parenting styles. Call them snowplow parents, lawnmower parents or helicopter parents, the point is that their care is more mechanical than mothering of fathering. These parents clear a path and remove obstacles so their kids can get ahead without having to avoid or surmount obstacles. Sure, this all comes from a place of love, but it also comes from selfishness and status obsession and a thousand other places. And the results can be, as we’ve seen, devastating.
The harsh truth about hyper-intensive parenting is that it isn’t simply a benign way to make sure kids get an edge in a competitive world. It’s about manipulation — both of those outside the family and of a child who isn’t being trusted to succeed on his or her own term. What’s more, this kind of parenting requires an abundance of resources. It is, in essence, an attempt to leverage privilege to guarantee success. It is antithetical to meritocracy and anethema to character building.
But it’s not just a bad strategy in the abstract. It’s a bad strategy in specific, easily described way. Here’s what to consider if you find yourself tempted to become over-involved in your child’s life.
Snowplow Parenting is Expensive
The current cost of raising a single child to the age of 17 is about $233,000. But when you add the cost of intensive parenting styles that price tag increases dramatically. And if you’re tempted to break the law, the cost can be astronomical.
There’s a very good reason that this kind of parenting gets so expensive: if you’re planning on clearing paths and giving your child advantages, you’ll have to write checks to the people that can help. That might mean shelling out up to $100 an hour for a private coach, tutor or instructor. It might mean spending top dollar private pre-schools or paying up to $1,000 for SAT prep.
And if you’re not a moral person, you can spend millions (in taxable donations) to grease the wheels of college admissions or frame your kid as a sports star. Though, if you’re caught, you could also face jail time for fraud in addition to court costs.
Snowplow Parenting is Time Consuming
The real cost of intensive parenting styles goes far beyond the bank book. Giving a kid every opportunity means investing a great deal of time to ensure they can access those opportunities.
Moms and dads who are snowplow parents or helicopter parents have very little time for themselves. They will spend all their free time helping their child with homework, driving to away games with travel teams or picking and dropping them off at appointments and engagements. Because over-scheduled kids will have over-scheduled parents and neither will have any time to play.
Snowplow Parenting is Ineffective
When parents clear away obstacles for their kids, their children never really learn how to fail. But failure, while traditionally unpleasant is how humans learn. It’s a crucial part of life and leads to personal growth and resilience.
A child who never struggles is a child who will be unprepared for adulthood. And, as a parent, that’s a great way of ensuring you will never ever be able to stop intervening on your child’s behalf, even when they should have a life of their own.
Snowplow Parenting is Racist
Parents who bend, break or otherwise disregard the rules aren’t simply harming their children. They are also doing a profound disservice to parents who play it straight.
Nowhere is that disservice more deeply felt than in college admissions. The problem is that white kid who doesn’t deserve a spot in college they didn’t earn will never be questioned. Meanwhile, kids of color who earn their place are said to have been given an affirmative action handout, despite having worked hard to get where they are. It means they have to work even harder to prove they belong. Snowplow parents are taking advantage of systemic racism for their own gain. Full stop.
Snowplow Parenting is Selfish
Being a helicopter parent or snowplow parent is not about love. Parents who love their kids give them ample room to fail. They trust their children’s abilities, be they emotional or intellectual. They believe in their children’s strength of character.
The terrible truth about intensive parenting styles is that love is the cover for the underlying anxiety parents feel raising a child in a highly competitive culture. That culture is competitive due to reasons that include income inequality, diminishing paths to success for the middle class and fewer social supports for parents.
Unfortunately, we can’t truly expect intensive parenting styles to change until parents acknowledge that they are built on anxiety and not love for children.