My daughter, a second-year law student, is taking a class this semester in educational law. After receiving her textbook in the mail, she asked me if I was familiar with the various issues she would be studying: FERPA (check); special education (check); search and seizure (check), and so it went.
Yes, I was familiar with every topic she would be discussing in this class. As intriguing as the class sounded, though, the most interesting piece of education to me, however, is not what is legislated and not something my daughter will learn in the classroom.
In fact, it can’t be taught or even mandated by the state. Education is so much more than legalities, standards and tests. What truly makes education work are the partnerships created when families and educators work together toward a common goal. But, most importantly, it’s the relationship between the parent and student that either makes or breaks the experience.
In my role as a school counselor, I have the pleasure of working with every stakeholder involved in the educational process. I am an advocate for the student first, but I also must maintain positive relationships with parents, teachers, and administrators.
During the past few years, my coworkers and I have seen our fair share of “helicopter” parents. We all know the type — the parents who are invested in every detail of a student’s school life. They handpick teachers, classes, and friends; finish homework assignments; complete take-home projects; and talk to a teacher about an assignment — all activities their children are more than capable of doing on their own.
They hover just close enough to their children so they can swoop in and save the day when they make a mistake.
Recently, however, hovering like a helicopter in order to pick up the pieces for a child has given way to a new type of parenting — the “lawnmower” parent. This type of parent never wants there to be pieces that must be picked up, so the parent “mows” the way for the child removing any and all obstacles the child could encounter.
The lawnmower parents never want or expect their children to fail — ever. And that is where we, as educators, struggle because we know children are inherently going to fail as they grow.
They will make mistakes and from those mistakes, they will learn. Not every student will earn straight A’s or win a spot on the varsity team. There will be disappointments throughout a child’s educational career, and that’s OK. Struggling and figuring out how to persevere are two of the most important life skills our children can learn.
According to Kate Bayless in an article for Parents.com, children who have helicopter or lawnmower parents are more likely to have fewer coping and life skills, lower self-esteem and more anxiety. They also tend to have a larger sense of entitlement than their peers who have more hands-off parents.
As the school counselor, I welcome parents who seek my advice on how to manage the educational issues they are facing with their child. How do they approach an unacceptable grade or lack of willingness to complete homework with their child? When should they step in and when should they allow the natural consequences?
I only have to remember the nature lessons I learned and witnessed to get the answers I share. Have today’s lawnmower parents forgotten that a butterfly must struggle in order to fly? It’s the push it must make out of the cocoon that forces fluid to the wings so it can fly on its own. Our children, too, must push through the hardest parts of school – on their own — in order to fly alone successfully.
Last spring, my family had the joy of watching a robin family build a nest and raise four hatchlings outside our back door.
We all took an interest in the babies and delighted in them as they grew. We cheered as all four of them matured and grew to a point where we could see every head and demanding beak. As it happens in nature, they grew to a point where the nest would no longer hold all four hatchlings and the parents.
It was time for them to fly on their own, and Mother’s Day 2015 was the day. One at a time, each baby robin hopped to the edge of the nest and surveyed the surroundings. In a beautiful, falling-with-grace moment, each baby flapped its wings and took that leap of faith — alone.
Where were mom and dad robin during that fateful moment? They were where we should be as parents and educators when children are capable — watching from afar and cheering silently with each successful flight.
Kim Kile is the director of school counseling at Greenfield-Central High School. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.