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Are You a 'Snowplow' Parent?

New book highlights the damage of the "snowplough parent"
Photograph by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Move over, helicopter parents. Step aside, tiger moms. There's a new over-the-top parenting method in town and, according to at least one expert, it may be doing our kids more harm than good.

Meet the "snowplow" parent. You probably know the type (and hey, you may even be guilty of being one). They're the ones who push their kids to achieve at all costs and clear every obstacle that might stand in their way of becoming a success. But in the process, these parents are getting more than just a few eye rolls at the PTA meeting — they're also creating "anxious, dependent, narcissistic and careerist" kids in the process.

David McCullough, a teacher with over 30 years of experience, has authored a new book on the topic titled "You Are Not Special: And Other Encouragements." In it, he describes how detrimental aggressive parenting is for young kids, who are taught from an early age to fear failure, always strive for success and, perhaps above all else, to achieve. As McCullough describes it, we are raising "achievement machines" rather than kids who are free to discover who they are on their own.

"From birth, they are strapped into the car seat and protected, driven and aimed in one direction," he told the UK's Daily Mail. "They are compliant; they have given up self-determination and a willingness to explore their own interests."

A lot of this competitive spirit all leads back to one common theory, adds McCullough. "If you do not get into one of the top 30 to 50 colleges, you are in for a very hard time in life — that's the thinking driving all this," he explains.

Snowplough parents invest big bucks in tutors, throw their kids into countless after-school activities and even butt in on their kids' school projects or homework assignments. And when it comes time for college? Well by then, some of these aggressive tactics have rubbed off on their kids, leading them to believe that they should still get the star treatment they did at home.

"They besiege professors for extra lessons or expect a private tutor like they had when they were 17," explains McCullough. "In some cases, [the kids] just drop out, seeing failure as a failure of the support system around them and not as their failure."

In "You Are Not Special," McCullough challenges parents to let their kids define their own greatness, and not raise them to be afraid of being "average."

The book profiles several kids and their families, including one child who regularly treks off to piano lessons every Saturday — on a bus that takes him 120 miles from home. When another child profiled in the book learns he's made some spelling mistakes on an assignment, he tells the teacher, "Mum must have missed those."

McCullough urges snowplow parents to take a step back, and let their kids be more independent.

"Try as much as possible to give children free rein," he suggests. "Let them follow their own passions and curiosities without overweening interference every step of the way."

"Sometimes our kids take paths they shouldn't, sometimes they will make mistakes. That's OK."

Are you guilty at times of being a bit of a snowplow parent?

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