Every generation has made the same claim, but we think it’s fair to say that the world our Gen Z children are growing up in is vastly different from the one their parents grew up in. Youth aren’t being raised in a village of trusting adults, they are being raised by a steady diet of social media, material ease, and plenty of digital distractions that take the place of good old physical labor.
In today’s world, coaches can’t set boundaries, teachers can’t discipline, and parents are hovering over their child’s every move. It’s a system set up to create fragile youth, robbing our children of crucial self-development skills. These are good youth, with amazing potential that is being held hostage by the world we live in and parents’ good intentions that actually do more harm than good.
It may be hard to see your parenting habits fall within one of these categories, but chances are, you will probably see yourself reflected in at least one, if not two, of these parenting styles. We know it’s hard to acknowledge because your parenting efforts come from a place of love and concern. However, if your child is to succeed, you must learn how to let them fail, struggle with discomfort, or wrestle with an obstacle until they find their way through, and still be able to sleep at night.
It’s our job as parents to set expectations, but to do so with love and acceptance. Basic lessons like work before play, setting limits for recreation and free time, understanding your duty to your home and family, and showing good interpersonal skills (like no phones at the dinner table) will go a long way to helping your child develop a healthy sense of self-respect and life skills that will serve them throughout adulthood.
Despite the best intentions, parents can fall into patterns that don’t serve their teens in the long run.
Three Parenting Styles That Will Destroy Your Teen
These parenting styles are not new, however, they have become increasingly prevalent in today’s society. Our Executive & Admissions Director, Andrew Taylor, interviewed Maureen Brennan on the In the Trenches Podcast. Maureen is an educational consultant with 13 years of experience and a Masters in Experiential Therapy, making her well-suited to coach parents on how to understand and help a struggling adolescent or young adult.
In the conversation, Brennen talks about the parents that she counsels, noting that these parents are often well-intentioned. They love their children and want to create a nice, happy childhood. However, as parents strive to create this utopia, they rob their children of the experiences that eventually build the character traits of resilience and grit that will see them through hard times.
Some young adults lack the skills to work through problems or persist at a task after failing once, or even twice. In Brennen’s experience, the following parenting styles (helicopter, lawn mower, and snowplow) are one of the top three reasons why youth are not succeeding in today’s world.
Definition: A helicopter parent is one who pays close attention or “hovers” over all aspects of a child’s life.
Common Characteristics: Incessant worrying, usually about safety or education. Intense feelings of anxiety about a child’s problems (like an upcoming test). You constantly monitor your child and you are heavily involved in the child’s decision-making process.
Examples Of A Helicopter Parenting Style: You may complete part or all of your child’s homework, control friendships, constantly pick up after them, fight your child’s battles for them, or micromanage their work or school relationships.
Child Impact: This type of parenting style will rob your child of developing grit–in other words, the skill of persistently working through problems even when confronted with failure. These children will not develop the skills necessary to advocate for themselves–their needs, wants, and desires. They have low self-confidence and motivation, believing that they have little or no control over their lives.
Definition: A lawnmower parent is one that will cut down any obstacle their child might face. These parents rush to intervene, saving the child from any potential inconvenience, problem, pain, or discomfort.
Common Characteristics: You become your child’s voice. You refuse to let your child solve their own problems. This type of parenting is overbearing and full of warnings about the future.
Examples Of A Lawnmower Parenting Style: You may complete homework for your child, email teachers to argue about grades, remove your child from difficult activities because you feel they will fail. You may ask for unreasonable accommodations, blame others for your child’s mistakes, and insert yourself between your child and other adults like teachers, coaches, or mentors.
Child Impact: These children do not develop critical-thinking skills. They learn to rely on an adult to perform basic functions, like household chores or making appointments. Because you are always their voice, they do not develop conflict resolution or interpersonal skills, culminating in a lack of confidence and motivation.
Snow Plow Parenting
Definition: A snowplow parent is one who is over-involved in all aspects of your child’s life.
Common Characteristics: In the hopes of securing success, these parents will attempt to minimize failure and steer around obstacles.
Examples Of A Snow Plow Parenting Style: Constantly shielding your child from consequences. For example, intervening if your child gets a bad grade or constantly contacting a teacher to ensure a good grade.
Child Impact: These children lack stress and time management skills, how to cope with failure, and critical decision making skills. They are used to getting their own way, and obstacles are a foreign concept to them.
An Effective Approach To Combat These Parenting Styles
If you find yourself reflected in one or more of those parenting styles, don’t despair. Even the best of parents have struggled to parent in these challenging times. During our interview with Brennen, she related an experience from her childhood that aptly illustrates how a parent letting go built resilience and grit in her own young life.
It was Brennen’s first skiing trip that she took with her father around the age of six. At the beginning of the day, he taught her the basic skills for success, and then offered her sage advice and stayed by her side, coaching and offering assistance. But she found that skiing was difficult and scary to learn and at some point during the day she decided that she didn’t want to do it. It was too hard. Her father realized on that mountain that if Brennen was going to learn, she had to do it herself, so he left her at the top of the mountain and she made her way down by herself. She remembered everything her father had taught her and used those skills to negotiate her way down the mountain. And when she got to the bottom, she got right back in the ski lift line, ready to try again. Her dad told her years later that he skied down and watched her make her way down the mountain from the lodge. Skiing away and watching her navigate the mountain from afar was one of the hardest things he had to do, but he knew there was no other way. In that moment, Brennen learned that her father trusted her and believed in her, and in turn, she was able to trust and believe in herself.
Fast forward to today, and Brennen is an avid skier and has spent many wonderful days skiing with her father–something she would have missed had she given up that first day. A few hours of discomfort gave her a lifetime of grit and resilience. She says that she’s had many more of those small lessons in her life, and she knows that she can pick herself up from failure and muscle through any obstacle or problem life throws at her. And your child can, too.
The next time you are tempted to intervene in your child’s life, just hit pause. And instead of resorting to parenting styles that will rob your child of their adulthood, consider using one of these tactics instead:
Stop trying to be liked. Too many parents are worried about being a friend and being liked by their children, rather than acting like a parent–setting expectations and letting natural consequences follow. It’s okay for your children not to like you. It often means that you are doing something right. They should always know you love them, but it’s not the same as being liked or popular.
Set expectations and follow through. Start with basic lessons like getting work done before play, completing household chores, and treating the people with whom they live decently. These small life lessons have a big ripple effect.
Give them choices. Children crave autonomy and feel frustrated when life is micromanaged. Let them have choices and then truly leave it up to them to decide what they want.
Give them permission to fail. Transmit your belief in them by letting them work out their own problems. Don’t be afraid of struggle or discomfort–these are often the very things that will build strength of character.
Find a program that is designed to build resilience and grit. Finding a program, like Pure Life’s adventure therapy, that is designed to build resilience and grit will yield fruit for many years to come. Reputable companies will be professional, transparent, and offer activities that will stretch and challenge your child all while connecting him more physically to the world he or she lives in. Through this experience, they will find they can do hard things.
Encourage work. One of the best things you can do for your child is to encourage them to go get a job! Working will broaden their horizons and help them develop responsibility, budgeting, and work/life balance–all real-world skills of a successful adult.
Gen Z Identity: A Road Map For Success
The key to launching a successful adult is letting your children develop a sense of personal identity. It means living a life on their terms, rather than those set by you or another person. It’s about identifying meaning in life.
Every person must navigate their own path in life, and nothing is harder than watching your child leave home not knowing if they can cope or succeed on their own. This is normal. You are doing the best you can, and we know that everything you are doing comes from a place of love and deep concern. That said, it is crucial that you let your child attempt to deal with problems on their own, even if they are likely to fail, even if you know they will fail! It seems counterintuitive, but young adults have to learn to fail in order to succeed. C.S. Lewis once said, “after all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.”
To succeed in life, your child must learn how to cope and deal with disappointment, sadness, anger, frustration, loss, and hurt. And the only way a person can learn this is through direct personal experience. You can’t prevent your child from being hurt, but you can help them develop tools to overcome the pain. And you can love them unconditionally, even if you have to stand behind the glass at the ski lodge and watch them navigate a steep mountain from afar. We promise–they can do it. And you can, too.
We are passionate about helping parents, and as such, we have created free resources just for you. If you are looking for more great resources to help your struggling young adult, download our white paper titled, Pure Life Young Adult Identity. This article opens a window into the life of a millennial and gives you a glimpse of life from their perspective, and what you can do to support and help.
This white paper was sponsored by Pure Life, a research-based Wilderness Adventure Therapy program for young adults, located in the beautiful country of Costa Rica. Pure Life offers safe, effective, and clinically-sophisticated treatment options for young adults.