The buzz in the media is all about the bribery scandal: Parents bribing their kids’ way into college. I don’t know about you, but when I heard it, I said, “What kind of parent does that?” Certainly a rich one, but aside from that, what kind of parent feels compelled to go that far?
Everyone has a different style of parenting. Some are over- or under-protective. Some parents are strict disciplinarians from the cradle forward. Others follow the philosophy that you only have one chance to be a child.
The styles we have as parents depend upon many factors. Our own childhood, our religious beliefs, our cultural influences, our economic or social position, and even our peers influence us. We also have deeply-held beliefs that drive us to raise our children in specific ways. We define success by different yardsticks.
Just like the alleged bribing parents, we can go to extremes in one direction or another. Do you recognize yourself in any of these well-known parenting types? Be sure to look at the results of parenting in each style.
The Five Types of Parents
The Snowplow Parent. David McCullough, Jr., popularized this term in a book entitled You Are Not Special and Other Encouragements. The snowplow parent is defined in “Parenting Today” as “a person who constantly forces obstacles out of their kids’ paths. They have their eye on the future success of their child, and anyone or anything that stands in their way has to be removed.”
Snowplow Parents intervene in their child’s every problem, no matter how minor, to see that their child does not experience any difficulty. Often the Snowplow Parent goes “over the head” of a teacher or department head and straight to the administration with demands and complaints. They see it as “advocating for” their child, although coaches, teachers, and administrators experience it as bullying. Usually, Snowplow Parents are privileged people themselves. They are used to having things their way, and they are able to provide their child with every extra advantage to smooth the path.
The results of Snowplow Parenting, though not surprising, can be disastrous. We all want our children to succeed, and it is difficult to see them experience disappointment, frustration or failure. Snowplow Parents don’t allow their children to experience problems, though, so their children develop no patience, resilience or perseverance. When they go off to college, they may fall apart or drop out. Unless, of course, Mom and Dad intervene for them with college officials. When all your success is handed to you, you have no idea how to earn it on your own.
Helicopter Parent. Sources disagree, but I maintain that the Helicopter Parent is slightly different than the Snowplow Parent. In fact, I would go so far as to say the Snowplow Parent is often the offspring of a Helicopter Parent. The definition of a Helicopter Parent is that, like a Snowplow Parent, they hover over every aspect of their child’s life, especially academics. They monitor friendships closely, over-structure their child’s free time, and often do homework for them. They call/text their children many times a day, and even complain to their child’s teachers, professors, or even to their employers about workloads. Although they are not necessarily privileged, they will go to great lengths to make sure their child is not “left out”, as they see it.
The results of Helicopter Parenting are often similar to those of Snowplow Parents, in that their child has no coping skills to problem-solve without Mom or Dad intervening. This does not bode well for college, or for their future career plans.
Tiger Parent. This is an entirely different method. “Tiger Parenting is strict or demanding parenting. Tiger Parents push and pressure their children to attaining [sic] high levels of academic achievement or success in high-status extracurricular activities such as music, using authoritarian parenting methods.” Wikipedia. Tiger Parenting was first named in 2011 in the book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua. Tiger Parenting has its roots in the ancient practice of Confucianism.
The child of a Tiger Parent has little free leisure time to explore or develop social relationships. They spend most of their time in extra academics, music classes, or studying and practicing under the critical gaze of their parents. The Tiger Parent’s eyes are on the prize–the offspring’s graduation from a prestigious university, and award-winning achievements in technology, science, medicine, or engineering.
The result. Proponents say that Tiger Parenting can promote a strong, lifetime bond between parent and child and that it encourages respect for parents and family. The result, when it works, is prestige, upward mobility and socioeconomic security for the child and the family.
If you live in a culture where status is given to the one who wins the most academic prizes, Tiger Parenting may seem necessary. But when it doesn’t work, it can be disastrous. Children of Tiger Parents in America may feel isolated, and may not be able to make friends or fend for themselves. The stress from constant studying, harsh and demanding parents and a limited social life may be a factor causing depression in many young adults.
Elephant Parent, also known as the Milk-and-Cookies Parent. The term “Elephant Parent” was first used in a 2014 article by Priyanka Sharma-Sindhar in “The Atlantic“. In the article, she describes her reluctance to “push” her preschool daughter toward independence. The author wanted her daughter to have a happy, carefree childhood, not one where too much was expected of her at too young an age.
Definition. Elephant Parents allow their children more flexibility and choices rather than following strict guidelines for development. They may rock their children to sleep where other parents would let them cry it out. They may not require kids to stick out challenging situations, but they also encourage them to be themselves. They want to let their kids be kids, without stress or challenges. “There is time enough for that later when they’re older,” say Elephant Parents.
Results. Elephant Parents hope to create a stronger bond with their children through nurturing, comfort and support. The biggest argument against Elephant Parenting seems to be that it is too permissive, and can make it difficult for a child to solve problems or adjust to the greater independence required of them as they get older.
Free-Range Parents. This controversial style has vocal proponents and opponents. Wikipedia defines Free-Range Parenting as, “the concept of raising children in the spirit of encouraging them to function independently and with limited parental supervision, in accordance of their age of development and with a reasonable acceptance of realistic personal risks.”
Results. As a concept, it sounds like my own childhood. In practice, it has drawn backlash, and some Free-Range Parents have even been charged with neglect. I am all for independence, but it has to be taught step by careful step, by carefully setting age-appropriate building blocks for increasing independence. There is not any long-term data about how Free-Range Parenting works in the 21st century. I would say that before you try Free-Range Parenting yourself, read all you can on both sides of the aisle, and research the laws in your state. Talk to trusted friends who have children the same age as yours, and look before you leap.
None of the Above
I suspect that if you actually were an extreme version of any of these parenting types, you would strongly defend your choice. Most of us, though, probably fall around the edges of these categories, and have styles that are something like “Authoritative Elephant hovering in a Helicopter over a Free Range where a Snowplow is clearing a path for my child.”
There is a little something to be said for all the styles. But each of us has to develop a combination that nurtures our child, encourages independence and success, and allows him or her to arrive at a happy, fulfilling adulthood.
God Has the Last Word
Grace is real–
Judy the Default Mom