Don't be a snowplough

Photo: Getty Images
Children readily pick up on a parent's anxiety. Photo: Getty Images

This week I was introduced to an expression new to me, although it's apparently been around for several years: "snowplough parenting", writes Ian Munro. 

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
I was familiar with "helicopter parenting", where parents stay very closely involved in managing their child's life. Helicopter parents hover and monitor and make sure things happen for their youngsters. They could be regarded as anxious, pushy micro-managers. I recently read of a parent in the United Kingdom who supposedly monitored his daughter's walk to school via a drone - very "helicopter"!

Snowplough parents are those who take that a step further by working at removing all difficulties from their child's path. There's an aggressiveness in their approach to whatever they perceive is standing in the way of their children. They regularly argue with teachers and challenge coaches, referees and the like who they see as discriminating in some way against their child. They write excuse notes willy-nilly and are likely to do their youngster's homework. If they are in a position to, they will hire lawyers to defend against an accusation of wrongdoing and use influence and connections to further their youngster's advancement.

Schools, sports teams, concerts all exist to spotlight their child. There is little sense of community, team playing, co-operation or the needs of others. Everyone else is to blame for anything that goes wrong - the school, the coach, the government. The "system" has let their youngster down and someone must pay.

Overprotective and overanxious parents do their offspring a great disservice while believing they are doing the right thing - reducing threat and their child's anxiety. But what they are really doing is increasing their youngster's anxiety and sabotaging their self-confidence.

Children readily pick up on a parent's anxiety and perception of threat. A parent's intervention intensifies that perception in the child, reduces their perceived control over that threat and lessens their confidence in being able to deal with it or with life's struggles in general.

The outcome is a person with poor social and coping skills, highly anxious and forever dependent on one or both parents, even in adult life. Because they have never had to work to make friends, achieve things, sort things out for themselves, face failure, disappointment or consequences, or even find their own employment, they tend to have a heightened sense of entitlement.

If they are going to make it in life, youngsters need to do a great deal of snow-shovelling for themselves. A parent's job is to be their coach - assist them to do their best by helping them learn how to do it, giving them some useful tips, continuing to guide them, helping them up when they fall because they didn't think to put on appropriate footwear and teaching them about, and shielding them from, actual dangers.



All true, but disengagement from child's school life is counter productive. There are times the child needs parental support in the face of petty authority: uniform rules and hair length regulations. It is a way of encouraging individual agency.