Enabling Independence

We’ve all heard of ‘helicopter parenting’ but ‘lawn mower parenting’ is now commonly referenced in articles relating to modern parenting styles. While helicopter parents are said to hover above children, constantly worrying and fussing over them, lawnmower parents clear a path for their child before they even take a step, pre-empting possible problems and mowing down obstacles in their child’s way, denying, rather than enabling, the independence of their children.[1]

While this desire to protect children from hurtful situations or difficult challenges may seem harmless, or even instinctive, research shows that it can impact on the child’s resilience, independence and long term coping strategies. In order to raise a resilient child we must give them autonomy, allow them to make and learn from mistakes and expect them to develop the skills they will require as adults.

Psychologist Michael Gordon suggests that ‘there are a number of reasons for this high level of dependency parenting, including family shrinkage, older parents, busy lives and a heightened fear that the world is a dangerous place for young people.’[2] He acknowledges, however, that labels such as ‘helicopter parents’, ‘bubble-wrapping kids’ and ‘over-parenting’, while commonplace, are unhelpful and offer little direction for parents.

In his book Spoonfed Generation, Gordon offers parents suggestions for developing children’s independence and achieving the ‘most important parenting outcome of all; their own redundancy’. It seems harsh to consider that our goal as parents and teachers is to become redundant but we are ultimately here to enable and encourage independence, rather than hover and insulate them from life’s challenges.

As educators we encourage our students to be resilient in the face of failure.

As educators we encourage our students to be resilient in the face of failure, that FAIL is an acronym for ‘First Attempt in Learning’. If we avoid mowing down any challenges ahead of young people, teachers and parents can collaboratively support our girls to ‘knock over the weeds themselves’.[3]

A common dilemma parents face, however, is when and how much to step back as adolescents begin to ask for greater independence socially. Michael Gordon acknowledges that ‘brain research shows that teenagers in the 13-18 year age group need help and guidance around decision-making. The pleasure-seeking part of their brain tends to dominate the reasoning part of the brain during this stage’.

Gordon recommends that, while it is important to demonstrate trust and faith in their ability to make good decisions, teenagers still require guidance, as young people can struggle to consider the consequences of their decisions. He notes that ‘If young people are to learn how to make smart choices, adults need to equip them with the processes as well as the opportunities to do so.’

Gordon suggests that young people be taught three simple questions to help them assess the safety and suitability of any activity or behaviour that they are about to participate in:

  1. Is it safe?This question helps them to assess risk.
  2. Is it fair?This question helps them to be sociable and consider others.
  3. Is it smart (and in my long-term best interests)?This question encourages them to think ahead, which isn’t typically a teenager’s strong point.[4]


Ms Merran O'Connor

Director of Student Wellbeing

[1] Koelma, Grace Parenting Kids

[2] Gordon, Michael; Parenting Ideas Blog ‘A Cool Tool to Reduce Teenage Risk’ https://www.parentingideas.com.au

[3] https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2017/08/30/lawnmower-parents-raising-generation-entitled-kids-handle-adversity

[4] Gordon, Michael; Parenting Ideas Blog ‘A Cool Tool to Reduce Teenage Risk’ https://www.parentingideas.com.au

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