Like helicopter parenting, bulldozer parenting (a.k.a. snowplow or lawnmower parenting) is about parents getting overly involved in their children’s lives. Whereas helicopter parents simply keep a close eye on their child’s activities and can often be good for kids, bulldozer parents directly intervene to remove obstacles; they “bulldoze” through any challenges for their children.
Bulldozer parenting seems to stem from the same concerns that cause helicopter parenting. A major factor is the ever-increasing competitiveness of college applications. According to the New York Times, college applications have doubled since the 1970s. Meanwhile, the number of available spots has remained mostly unchanged.
Not Just for Celebrities
The recent college admissions scandal represents a particularly extreme (and criminal) form of bulldozer parenting. Parents involved in the scandal have been accused of a variety of illegal acts. Some allegedly lied about their children’s participation in sports. Others are said to have paid to have standardized tests taken for their children. Some are accused of simply bribing faculty members.
Still, it’s possible to be a bulldozer parent without breaking the law. What’s more, the consequences for a child can be just as damaging. Bulldozer parenting could be arguing with teachers about a student’s grades, doing their homework for them, or applying to colleges on their behalf. Often, bulldozer parenting will continue through college and beyond; a bulldozer parent might call their college student daily to wake them for class, or call a potential employer if a job interview doesn’t work out for their child.
Good Intentions, Bad Effects
While bulldozer parents have good intentions, experts say they leave children unable to deal with stress as adults. Rachael Sharman, a psychology lecturer at the University of the Sunshine Coast, wrote in The Conversation that it’s important to “vaccinate” children against hardship.
“A bulldozer style of parenting, while terribly well-intentioned and meant to ‘protect’ the child from short-term harm, ultimately results in a psychologically fragile child, fearful and avoidant of failure, with never-learned coping strategies and poor resilience,” Sharman wrote.
What can a bulldozer parent do to ease up? Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, recommended allowing children to develop self-reliance.
“What parents don’t realize when they do the homework, or registration, or email, is what they’re really doing is telling their child’s psyche, ‘Hey kid, I don’t think you’re going to be successful at this task, so I need to do it for you,’” she told the Times, “and that really messes with a person psychologically.”