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Helicopters and lawn mowers: The new trends in parenting

"Every parent has their own way of bringing up their children, but boundaries and discipline should be a part of every parenting module", says Terence Pillay.

father with two kids pexels
Father and his kids / Pexels

Listen to Wednesday's topic on The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in the podcast, or read the details.

My friend and I were having lunch at a restaurant recently when we witnessed something quite concerning. At the next table sat a young mother and father with their five or six-year-old daughter, also having lunch. The parents were tucking into their food while the child was sucking on the salt cellar on the table like it was an ice-cream cone. The parents were fully aware of the child doing this and did absolutely nothing to take the object away from her or tell her she shouldn’t do this. The child seemed old enough to understand that this was not acceptable or at the very least, this should have been pointed out by the parents.

After they chomped through their burgers, they simply picked the child up and left. I called the waiter over and told him he should either wash the salt cellar before putting it out for another customer or he should throw it away altogether. But why was that my place to say anything? Surely, the parent should have done this? 

As a germophobe, it obviously disturbed me to no end, but as an observer of questionable parenting in progress, I was even more concerned. And what’s more, it is the school holidays so there are a lot of children out and about with their parents, which is all well and good, if only they were better behaved. The fact is: a restaurant is not a playground. If you want your children to run around screaming, take them to Mitchell Park or somewhere where that kind of behaviour is appropriate.   

The bottom line is: when you are in a restaurant, you sit down and eat your food. You don’t roll around on the floor shrieking because your parent’s cellphone battery is flat and you can’t play games. And why do we pander to this behaviour? Your child needs to be disciplined enough to know this is not acceptable – especially in public. 

I was in a hair salon recently and a woman came in with her two children who then proceeded to tear up the place seemingly oblivious to the fact that there were other people in this person’s place of business. It looked like a bomb had exploded in there with papers, stationery, toys and other items strewn all over the salon. And the mother did nothing. Not once did it even occur to her that this was such unacceptable behaviour. These kids tore the place apart.

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Parents are way too permissive because they don’t want to upset their children. And so they get away with a lot of bad behaviour. I understand that there’s a whole generation of parents now who had really strict parents or who lived through austerity and so they don’t want to parent their children in the manner in which they were raised. But giving your children a better life than you had doesn’t mean indulging them and parents don’t always see it. 

The trend now is that you have two new types of parents – the helicopter parent and the lawn mower parent. So with the helicopter parent, for example, if there’s a crisis at the school or something, they swoop down and sort out the issue and disappear again. They don’t actually do more than that; they don’t want to be a good role model or a good parent – they just want things to go away. It’s reactionary. 

And then there’s the lawn mower parent, which is a parent who removes all obstacles from their child’s life; mows them down so there’s always a nice clean lawn and they shouldn’t have to trip over stuff. The child is not allowed to experience any kind of struggle or resistance trauma and life needs to be clean and smooth sailing at all times and just lives a very easy life. The lawn mower parent is pre-emptive.

And while, on the surface, this may sound like a good thing, if you look at psychological studies by people like Carol Dweck who’s a professor of psychology from Stanford University and she’s done a lot of research on the idea of a concept called “growth mindset”. She says that children in this “guru age” where it’s all about pop psychology and the kind of life we should be living has created a whole generation of children who don’t understand what it means to just put a little bit of effort into anything in order to get to a goal.  

So what parents do is create these scenarios where they’re saying things like, “My darling you are so talented, so beautiful and the world is your oyster and nothing can possibly stand in your way. You are just so special.” And the child is then successful because he or she comes from a good home that’s well-resourced and all the rest of it but the minute they encounter failure, the immediately give up. They won’t tackle things that they know they might fail at; they avoid anything that involves a challenge or something that might present them with some difficulty. 

Also read: Study finds that most parents do have a favourite child

And then there’s the child who experiences the parent who says, “With effort comes reward. Do you want to try horse-riding? Do you know it’s going to be something like twenty hours a week of extra lessons and riding and practice? Great, you know this so you can do it if you’re prepared to put in the effort.” And if the child experiences the challenge they then ask, “Okay, what can you learn from that?  Did you put in enough effort?  If you try harder you can succeed!” 

And what they then do is develop a growth mindset; a belief that they can do whatever they want, but it takes effort. And sometimes they fail. But when they fail, they should use the failure as an opportunity to learn to get better. 

At the end of the day perhaps one needs to be teaching children that failure is not just failure – it’s an option to learn and do better.

You can email Terence Pillay at [email protected]co.za or follow him on Twitter: @terencepillay1 and tweet him your thoughts. 

Main image courtesy of Pexels/Josh Willink

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