Are ‘lawnmower parents’ responsible for the D.C. weeds?

By Dr. Heather Bozant Witcher, Clarion Herald

With each start of the semester, it seems that I get some variation prior to the start of classes on the question of whether, in a literature class, we’ll actually need all of the books listed in the bookstore. It’s a question that raises much anger because it’s an answer that seems pretty straightforward. In a literature course, we read texts. 

In my syllabus, I’ve had to begin including a clause: “This is a reading-intensive course. Students are expected to read ‘X’ number of pages per class period.” 

When I mentioned this to a friend in the math department, he laughed. “Why would you ever need to specify that?” It’s a question I often ask myself, but since including that statement, I’ve lessened the number of evaluations complaining about the reading load.

But this semester, the strangest e-mail that I’ve yet received appeared in my inbox. From a parent. In a college environment. Last semester, this particular student had struggled after missing a lot of classes and neglecting to turn in assignments. The e-mail requested that I meet with the parent to discuss the student’s performance because this behavior seemed out of character for the student/child. 

Legally, I’m unable to provide any insight to a parent of a college student unless that student has signed a FERPA waiver, providing rights to his/her parent. This student had not done so, and thus my hands were tied. I could meet with the student, certainly, but the parent was out of bounds.

The entire incident left a bad feeling in my stomach. Part of the reason, it seems, for students entering college wholly unprepared for a sense of responsibility and consequences was laid before me in a nutshell. Some parents refuse to let go. Some of these students have never had responsibility in their lives because family members have always taken on the responsibility themselves.

These are the lawnmower parents, parents who mow down any struggle or obstacle for their children in an effort to eliminate any difficulties for their children. The consequence, however, rears its head when these same children become adults and have enormous challenges in a college setting ripe with obstacles in both academic and personal settings.

And yet, as I sat in my office thinking over these incidents, I heard colleagues in the hallway discussing the partial government shutdown. One of them had a family member who was directly impacted, having been furloughed for the past three weeks. 

Whichever side of the political spectrum you fall, I think it can be agreed that both parties of our government leadership have been acting somewhat like children. 

We’ve seen our political leaders throwing tantrums, refusing to compromise, refusing to even dialogue – fairly and bipartisanly –  for the greater interest of the American people. 

And I wonder why my college students can sometimes shirk responsibility? 

Increasingly, it seems that we, as a society, are headed for a communication crisis. We are losing the art of communicating our thoughts and ideas in an open, dialogic fashion. And, in doing so, we seem to be losing something of our own sense of personal worth and personal motivation. 

We can’t look to others for change; we must learn to look to ourselves and trust that God will guide our actions.

Heather Bozant Witcher can be reached at

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