The rise of the lawnmower parent

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Tuesday 24th January 2012

Helicopter parents are a well-known phenomenon these days. You know, they’re the mums and dads who micro-manage every single aspect of their children’s time. They hover overhead, watch every move their children make and constantly check that their lives are going according to plan (the parents’ plan, that is).

I didn’t realise though, that the trend has moved up a gear, with parents and even grandparents of university students meddling in youngsters’ lives.

In a fascinating blog for The Guardian’s Higher Education Network, academic Afshan Jafar writes: “Some colleges and universities are now calling this breed of parents ‘lawnmower’ parents as these are parents who vow to mow down any and all obstacles and challenges in their children’s paths.’”

Apparently these parents ring university tutors to fix extensions on essay assignments, protest if their children don’t get on the courses they want and even dispute their exam grades.

I’m starting to feel like a laissez-faire mother. Actually, I’d love to interfere in my student daughter’s life but she won’t let me. If I dared ring her tutor about anything she’d be completely apoplectic. I’ve learned the hard way that if I make a suggestion about what to study or where to live she generally goes and does the complete opposite. So now, I keep quiet, let her work it out for herself and do you know what? Sometimes she actually does what I reckoned she should do in the first place.

PS. My daughter’s off to Paris (above) in September (not because I’m a lawnmower parent, I hope) and has been swapping notes with a French girl who’s studying in London this year. “But I’m having a bit of trouble learning the slang  people use here,” the delightful Clemence told my daughter. “I can’t even attempt Cockney rhyming slang and the only word I’ve picked up so far is ‘innit.’”

6 comments so far

  • I’m laid back…you have to let go because I don’t know about them but I had to make my own mistakes…this of course is what worries me most!

  • As a Uni lecturer, I can say that I have had a parent phoning on behalf of their offspring. I’ve also encountered very assertive parents of cringing, embarrassed youngsters at rowing.
    But there is a fine line between silent support and interference, which is difficult to walk sometimes. I have maintained that E has dyslexic tendencies for years, but no teacher would do anything about it, probably because she is is bright. Finally this September I made a BIG fuss at school, She was tested in October. Now has a diagnosis which makes her feel better about her total inability to spell, and extra exam time to gather her thoughts and write them down. She is 16, predicted mainly As at GCSE, but ask her to spell ‘there’, and she will give you five versions.

  • Hi LInsey. Interesting to hear that you’ve actually experienced it at work. And you’re right, it’s often hard to know when to say nothing and when you really do need to step in and help. It sounds like you got it absolutely right when you made a big fuss at school and E got the support from teachers she needed.

  • I think I’ll be pretty laid back too. Just this weekend we were at a children’s museum and I sat back and watched my 18-month-old gently nudge and get nudged from exhibits/toys. He’s gotta learn to stick up for himself. I’d only intervene if it got too serious. Am I wrong? Am I teaching him to be selfish?

  • Hi Lisa. I’m sure being laid back is the best way to be but there are times when you can’t just watch without saying something!

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