Less Snowplowing, More Empowering
Every morning, another story about parents behaving badly pops up in my news feed. In just a few months we’ve seen stories about bribery in the Varsity Blues scandal, shocking and despicable verbal abuse at the elite Sidwell Friends School and parents posting photos of their children on social media without their child’s permission. The wealthy parents of Generation Z are taking extreme measures to get their entitled offspring admitted to an Ivy League school.
Such outrageous parenting, where parents attempt to control their children’s outcomes, is producing entitled and anxious children who increasingly seem to be struggling in life. It’s time parents stop bulldozing and snowplowing for their kids and start raising resilient and independent young adults.
So what’s my credibility for writing about this? I’ve studied, written and blogged about Generation Z for more than five years, since this term was first applied to this age group. My marketing career led me to research and post insights and trends among Gen Z as consumers, and I’ve consulted with corporations, institutions and sports teams on how best to connect with them. My two (hopefully!) well-adjusted independent teens surely wish their Mother knew a lot less about their generation.
As a parent and a close observer of Gen Z, I have a lot to say about “snowplow parenting.” Rather than another marketing analysis, this article is a personal story about Gen Z based on my experience working directly with these students on a daily basis. I tutor middle class, first generation and underserved high school students on the college process and entrepreneurship. I’ve experienced parents and teens in two very different educational settings: a public school in an affluent high-pressure suburb, and a small diverse private school in rural CT where outrageous parenting barely exists.
I understand why parents want to snowplow the uncertain roads so their child can succeed; we’re raising our children in so much uncertainty and turmoil. But snowplow parents do more harm than good, believing that if we control their environment and even their destiny, they will automatically succeed and excel in life. That may sometimes be true in the very short term, but we are setting them up to struggle even as very young adults.
What effects does outrageous parenting have on Generation Z? Today’s college students are anxious, particularly wealthier students, often because parents snowplowed the way for them. This well-intentioned and loving “help” can make them uncertain and anxious about advocating for themselves and living on their own. An increasing number of college students, of all economic backgrounds, drop out of school in their freshman year. They are struggling now that they are in; no one told them how hard life could be. Anxiety is at an all time high among Generation Z and rates have doubled among 18-26 year olds since 2008.
According to our recent survey among relatively affluent college students, 74% of students report having trouble balancing work and life (below). Students were taught in high school to be laser-focused on academic performance, not social skills and problem-solving skills. In our focus group among college students, one teen said “I had to teach my friends how to use a credit card to pay for a bill in a restaurant. They had no idea how.”
We need to step back and teach every member of this ambitious and outspoken generation, from the entitled to the underserved, how to be resilient and independent.
One develops resilience by being exposed to life’s hardships and overcoming failure, something many of the entitled have not experienced. It is critical that we help Gen Z become resilient; they are confronted with turmoil and catastrophes streaming live 24/7. We need to teach our kids how to be resilient in today’s world by letting them develop inner strengths to cope with life. Many resilient Gen Z students from underserved communities have confronted challenging issues head on at younger ages and have strong voices, as demonstrated by protesting for a cause or on campus. The group #askforbetter is one example of student activism on campus where women are pressing colleges on sexual assault. As we see in protests for gun control or climate change, a significant portion of Generation Z is very outspoken and developing resilience by igniting change.
It’s a parent’s job to teach their children how to be independent so they succeed as an adult. When my kids were very young, I read the book, “The Blessing of a B Minus” by Wendy Mogel, Ph.D., which became my guide on how to raise thriving teenagers. I empower my own children to handle most situations by themselves, teaching them to be self-advocates. They’ve learned how to take care of themselves by learning and doing life skills. They’ve done their own laundry since age 14, manage a bank account, and do chores around the house without pay.
My first generation high school students are handling the college admissions process themselves and they know how to balance life and work because they already work while in high school. Students who attend high school in a rural setting largely come from dual income households, where children learn to be independent out of necessity and at an early age. These Gen Zs are hardly entitled and already demonstrate resilience and independence.
Imagine if all this neurotic, competitive energy of the outrageous parenting was redirected to raising resilient and independent Gen Zs with a hard work ethic and strong moral compass. Students would transition more smoothly to college, fewer kids would suffer from anxiety and more adults would prepare their children to lead a successful life outside of school. As I witness every day, young adults of this generation are highly capable of great achievements without snowplow parent intervention. Parents, please do your kids a favor and raise the plow.