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'Lawnmower parenting', from the classroom to the interview room

Such behaviour on the part of parents will not do their children any favours in life, a psychologist warns.

Ahmad Mustakim Zulkifli
3 minute read

Several years ago, Faizul Zakaria was looking for someone to work at his small launderette in the south of the peninsula. 

After putting up an ad for the vacancy, he was contacted by a candidate who said he was 19 years old. 

On the day of the interview, the young man turned up on his motorcycle, accompanied by his mother. 

At first, Faizul was reluctant to allow her to sit in on the interview. 

"But it was quite warm outside, so I asked her to come in and sit," he said. 

He was then taken aback to discover that, throughout the interview, every question posed to the young man was instead answered by his mother who sat beside him the entire time. 

The youth himself sat quietly and answered only with great hesitance. 

Faizul's experience, as it turns out, is not unique. In another case, an employer said that the candidate's parents had even attended the interview on his behalf. 

Such incidents have been described as examples of "lawnmower parenting" – a phenomenon in which parents are excessively involved in their children's lives, to the point of doing things on their behalf to protect them from experiencing failure, disappointment or adversity. 

This behaviour often begins when their children are still very young, and can continue through adolescence and into adulthood. 

Psychologist Md Noh Saiman said such acts would only have negative effects on the children's growth. 

Describing them as "overpowering", Noh, an officer from the National Population and Family Development Board, said the second stage of childhood growth from 18 months to three years of age was an important period for learning how to deal with shame and doubt.

"During this phase, children begin to explore and seek out autonomy. They don't want to depend on others in their daily activities," he said. 

"When they succeed in doing something on their own without help from anyone else, it boosts their confidence in themselves.

"Being a lawnmower parent at this stage will only stunt their growth." 
If left unaddressed, he added, the children would grow up not knowing how to solve their own problems. 

Instead, he said, they would continue to rely on others when faced with problems that challenge their confidence in themselves, leading to feelings of inadequacy. 

Noh said parents might exhibit such behaviour due to their own childhoods, during which time their parents might have neglected them. 

"When they become parents, they don't want their children to experience the same thing," he said. 

"They want to take care of their children as well as they can, and give them everything from clothes and food to money so that their children will never have to deal with hardships in their lives." 

Noh said parents should instead allow their children the opportunities to make their own decisions, and solve problems and challenges without interference. 

He added that giving them autonomy in life did not mean abandoning them without any guidance whatsoever. 

"Parents can always give encouragement, guidance and support," he said. 

"But being there when they are needed is not the same thing as shadowing everything that their children do.

"Parents need to respect the decisions and choices that their children make after they have discussed everything together. There's nothing wrong with listening and giving input, as long as what is done does not go against the principles and norms of society."