'Snowplow parents' can harm their kids by trying to make things easy for them

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  • Cecelia Horan

    Cecelia Horan

Submitted by Amita Health
Posted3/31/2019 8:00 AM

The recent news about wealthy and celebrity parents who attempted to buy their children's way into elite colleges has made many people familiar with the term "snowplow parenting."

Cecelia Horan, PsyD, with Amita Health Behavioral Health Hospital Outpatient Group Practice Hoffman Estates, explains, "Snowplow parenting is an evolution of helicopter parenting. Helicopter parents just hover over their children all the time. But snowplow parents actively try to plow through obstacles so their children don't have to clear their own path."


Although snowplow parents often think they are making things easier for their children, they are making things more difficult.

"They really are not helping, because the child never learns how to fail," Horan said. "And learning to fail, learning that you can survive failure, is one of the most important lessons in life."

Horan noted that parents should act when they feel that the consequences of an action could pose a real danger to the child. "I always tell parents to consider safety first," she said. "If there is a clear safety issue, then step in."

Otherwise, she said, parents should let their children handle their own issues. Children should be responsible for making their own decisions -- and for living with the consequences of those decisions. They will make mistakes, but they can learn from their mistakes.

This process should begin when children are young. For example, as soon as they have homework, they should be responsible for remembering to do it and turn it in.

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Parents can work with children if they need help understanding the homework, but parents should not give the children the answers or write their papers.

If there is a conflict in a friend group, parents can act as a sounding board for their child, but they should not interfere by, for example, calling the parents of other children.

If a child wants to play a sport, parents should encourage the child and make sure the child has the right equipment and lessons if necessary. But if the child does not make the team, parents should not call the coach to complain.

Interjecting themselves into their children's lives can keep their children from developing skills they will need as adults.

Many parents find it harder to stand back as their children enter adolescence.


"Adolescence is the age of risk-taking. Adolescents are supposed to take risks so that they learn from both their successes and failures," Horan said. "It's also the age of identity formation, so they may take on many different personas, looks, etc. to explore whether this is who they are or not."

It can be hard to watch your child dye his or her hair blue or fail a test or lose a friend or not get a date to a dance. But these and similar experiences are necessary, Horan said, adding, "I tell parents that unless it is really harmful, they should just ride it out."

If parents are always stepping in to protect their children from unhappiness, the children come to rely on their parents instead of themselves to make things right.

"But nobody is happy all the time, and people have to learn to deal with uncomfortable feelings as well as comfortable ones," Horan said. "That is how you gain the confidence that no matter what life hands you, you will be able to handle it."

• Children's health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Amita Health, which is comprised of 19 hospitals and more than 230 sites of care, including Amita Health Alexian Brothers Women & Children's Hospital, Hoffman Estates. Amita Health has 900 providers in its medical groups, more than 26,000 associates and 7,000 physician partners and serves over 4.3 million residents in the greater Chicago area. For more information about Amita Health's programs, locations and services, visit www.amitahealth.org.

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