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Countdown to college: Don't be a snowplow parent

Lee Shulman Bierer, Tribune News Service on

Published in Education News

Drop-off stories have changed. It used to be that parents would drive their children to college, unload the car, make the bed and have a tearful goodbye. I’ve heard stories about how the drop-offs are going for some families these days, and I’m shocked and concerned for the parents and the children.

Here’s an example:

A neighbor’s daughter is about to be a freshman at Wheaton College in Massachusetts. She is excited about attending, although with some understandable and normal apprehensions. A friend of hers will also be attending Wheaton, and her friend’s mom has chosen to rent an apartment in the tiny town of Norton, Massachusetts, for the first month of school in case her daughter needs something.

When I heard about this, my reaction was: “Are you serious?” Now my neighbor’s daughter wants her mom to rent an apartment as well. My neighbor told me that her daughter is even playing the “if you were a good mother" card.

Thankfully, my neighbor put her foot down and told her daughter that she would be just fine, and there was no need for her to have her mother within spitting distance.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of parents taking extreme measures. I remember reading about how one mom insisted on sleeping on an air mattress in her daughter’s room for the first week of college. Wouldn’t you like to be the other roommate in that dorm room?

We’ve all heard about the tiger moms and helicopter parents, but now there's a new moniker: “snowplow parents.” They are the parents who are willing to plow down anything or anyone who gets in the way of their child achieving success.


Yes, these are the parents who cause other parents and even their own children to roll their eyes in disgust, disdain and embarrassment. Snowplow parents terrify parent orientation leaders because they’ll hijack a discussion and drown out everyone else.

Kari Kampakis is the author of a great book called “Prepare the Child for the Road, Not the Road for the Child” (http://www.karikampakis.com). She is a proponent of letting kids experience failure.

"It’s hard not to clear every obstacle in our children’s path so they can be happy now – getting what they want, when they want it," Kampakis says. "But when we clear the road for a child, we make their life too easy. We don’t allow them to build life-coping skills they’ll need down the road to handle life’s realities.”

Kampakis adds that our children are facing "Little League" age-appropriate stress, but soon they'll be moving up to the big leagues, and if we don’t provide them with the tools to cope with the Little League stresses, there’s not much of a chance they’ll survive the stress of the big leagues.

The best advice is that preparing a child for the road means packing their suitcase with care, putting all the good stuff in while making sure to save room for resiliency and character.

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