By Andrew Hawk
Have you ever heard of a lawn mower parent? Even if you haven’t, I bet you have been around one at some point. Lawn mower parents are parents who try to eliminate any obstacles in their children’s lives that might cause their children discomfort. The term was coined to insinuate that these parents will “mow down” anyone or anything that is in their children’s way.
Lawn mower parents are not to be confused with helicopter parents, who are always “hovering.” Lawn mower parents are typically also helicopter parents, but helicopter parents are not always lawn mower parents. In my experience, lawn mower parents are much rarer than helicopter parents and are much more volatile. Helicopter parents can, in most cases, be placated by providing them with information. Lawn mower parents will go to great lengths to reach their objectives. These are the parents who call the superintendent to complain about their child getting a detention. These parents show up at their children’s sporting organization’s meetings to make sure everyone is getting a participation trophy. I once had a lawn mower parent file a complaint with my state’s department of education citing that my daily writing prompts were too distressing for her child to complete. This is the only time a parent has filed a complaint against me, and it was dropped two days later.
Here are some tips that will help you if you find yourself in the path of a lawn mower parent.
Be sure you have distributed your policies, and be sure you have followed your school’s procedures. Also, document all communications. If a lawn mower parent goes over your head, you do not want that parent to be able to accuse you of any wrongdoing or negligence. Transparency and documentation will help you in these instances.
Choose Your Battles
I am in no way suggesting that you compromise your principles to avoid conflict with lawn mower parents. However, ask yourself if whatever they are asking for is worth the battle that is on the horizon. If the request relates to your discipline policy or your school’s policies, stand your ground. But, if they are only asking for an extension on their child’s assignment or an opportunity for their child to make up missing work for partial credit, I say it’s not worth the fight.
Consider Their Past Experiences
How is a lawn mower parent made? From what I have gathered over the years, I believe that many lawn mower parents feel they were somehow treated unfairly during their childhoods. A lawn mower parent is usually, in my opinion, trying to prevent his or her child from having the same negative experiences he or she had. When conflicts arise with these parents, keep in mind that you are working against the present and the past.
Prepare Talking Points
It is best to make a list of talking points and stick to them during encounters with lawn mower parents. Talking points should include details relating to the student, details about school policies, motivations for policies, and (if applicable) research that supports your position. If the parent’s complaint is related to a truly gray area, reinforce why the policy was put in place. For example, in the case of whether or not participation trophies are awarded, the decision usually rests with the position of the majority of participants. Do not include in your talking points anything demeaning or any specific information about other students, and under no circumstance should you place blame on another member of your school’s staff. These topics are unprofessional and will not help you in the long run.
Try Role Reversal
A colleague of mine had trouble with a lawn mower parent when she wrote a disciplinary referral for the parent’s son for stealing out of another student’s backpack. The student received a one-day in-school suspension. When the parent and teacher met with our principal to discuss the child’s consequence, the principal opened the conversation by asking the parent, “What do you think the consequence for stealing should be?” Even if this tactic does not sway parents’ positions, it will give you an idea of their end goal.
Keep Your Cool
Lawn mower parents are quick to go over a teacher’s head, but they are not afraid to make a scene in public either. If this happens, keep a level head. Remember, you only have control over your actions. If a lawn mower parent starts shouting at you, don’t shout back—and do what you can to keep from getting emotional. Either reaction will feel like a victory to the parent. Keep in mind that parents, in these situations, are not responding to you as a person but rather to your position of authority over their children. Stick to your talking points and do not be afraid to end a meeting abruptly if necessary.
Involve Your Principal
Some teachers are hesitant to go to their principals for fear of appearing inadequate in some way. Most principals are accomplished in the art of diplomacy. Assisting teachers with situations such as meetings with lawn mower parents is precisely why principals are principals.
Stand Your Ground
Lawn mower parents will go further than your typical parent to try to persuade teachers to bend rules and policies. Compromising is recommended if it is possible. However, rules, policies, and procedures must be enforced consistently to be fair to all students. If you are going to make an exception for a lawn mower parent, you must ask yourself if you would be willing to make the same exception for all students. If the answer is “no,” you must stand your ground. Dealing with challenging parents is part of being a teacher. Teachers must not make exceptions to their principles to avoid conflicts with parents.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 16 years, starting as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher, and for the past five years, has worked as a resource room teacher, providing services for fourth and fifth graders. Working as a special education teacher has given him the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups and exceptionalities. Andrew earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University, and in 2016, he completed a second master’s degree in educational leadership, also from WGU. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and daughter.
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