The Drive of a "Bulldozer Parent"

centennials college bound education reform education system generational intelligence labels next generation parenting parenting 101 stereotypes teenagers xenial Jun 18, 2019

I’ve heard is a few times now and I’ve had enough. My generation of parents has been labeled the “Bulldozer Parents”. We seek to guide our children in their futures, so in turn, we are stereotyped as a “Bulldozer”. I call bullshit!

I just arrived home from an international trip where I chaperoned for my daughter’s high school.  It was a wonderfully amazing trip, with so many opportunities for these young people, many first time travelers to experience world outside their small town bubble. For my daughter, it was her first international trip and the opportunity for me to be a part of that was monumental. We commemorated it with a pair of Swarovski earrings of course!

Glittery souvenirs aside, I observed a perspective of my parenting style during this trip that partly made me proud but also made me ask myself why did I back down from feeling proud about it advocating & empowering my kids? For the first time, I was affirmed that perhaps it’s not a lack in parenting to help your child see a path for their future at all, despite what this label of “Bulldozer Parenting” has begun to try to define. I saw and heard other parents who hoped, wished, and strove to find ways to offer a more clear path for their children so they can walk into their full potential but felt like the options were being held at bay, primarily from our public education system in the US. With no fault to teachers or administrators, as parents, we were being labeled pushy when all we want is for the options to be available for our kids to make sound future life decisions.

Before I dive into this topic more, I feel a little background on what it was like for me as a teen to try to navigate the waters of my future in high school. When I was my daughter’s age of sixteen, I remember having big dreams of what my future would look like. Like most young women of the 90s, I wasn’t worried about documenting my entire life on Snapchat like today’s teens. When I was moving into my Junior year of high school I was thinking about where I would be in two more years. Living in a small town affords you to have friendships with upperclassmen, and the perspective of graduation doesn’t feel so far away as possibly how it may for teens who attend high schools with city-like size class populations. I remember wanting to understand what to do next to make myself a better future, but having no one who understood the path to guide me. Being the first woman in my family who desired to attend a four-year university and also being raised by a woman in her late 70s, finding someone who knew the direction to take was near impossible. Starker yet, I had struggled in 9th grade to get my grades focused, and only the latter part of my sophomore year did I find my niche of what I enjoyed and where I saw my potential begin to blossom.

At that time, high schools in my state were set up into categories. You were either a “Techie” or Exploratory student, Business or Academic. Only academic was seen as worthy of attending four-year colleges. The others, well, it’s just true, we were seen as less. As my senior year approached I turned things around, and decide to not take the answer of not being academic as a reason to keep me from university applications. I advocated for business students to receive scholarship information held only for academic by my guidance counselor, and I ended my high school education ranked top of my business curriculum for my class. In the end, I didn’t attend the four-year college, although I was accepted, thanks to some help from a friend’s mom guiding me through the process. I instead received my associate degree from a two-year business college because that felt more attainable. Many times I’ve looked back and thought, if only someone would have pushed the path a bit wider for me, maybe I would have felt worthy enough to walk through onto the bigger stage.

Back to chaperoning, I began to think more about this label “Bulldozer Parent”. We were attending ceremonies for the 75th Memorial of D-day and we saw men in their 90s speak about being barely a year or two older than my daughter. They talked about stepping foot onto a bloody beach fighting for our future freedoms. I couldn’t help but think how thankful I was that they plowed such a big path for us. When my daughter and her peers were shaking their hands or hugging them with gratitude, you could see they were overwhelmed with the joy of being able to plow that path so they could excel. So I started asking myself more, why are we telling children, to figure out big life decisions alone? Why are we treating them like adults when someone has paid such a high price for them to remain children for a few years longer? May I ask what decision lately, as an adult have you made completely by yourself? Why are we condemning parents for filling in the void that our government has decided to feel isn't an important portion of the secondary school curriculum?

photo credit: Kathryn Edwards

No one can make an educated decision about their future without first receiving all the choices they have available to them. No one knows how to set goals or be accountable without being taught first. This is what it means to me to proudly identify with the label “Bulldozer Parent” and call bullshit on the label that says by guiding my teenager to know their options for their future that it will make her unable to cope with failure, less goal-oriented, and in one article, “psychologically fragile”. On the contrary, I am calling this label of “Bulldozer” on the education system since it is what I have witnessed with my children and after traveling abroad several times witnessing the educational systems of the countries those same young men fought to free over 75 years ago.  

I am a firm believer that education equals liberty, freedom, and equality. The three labels below is what the media would like to label Centennial kids whose parents are advocating for them to have choices for their future. I believe for most of us it is not the parent but the broken public education system that has put parents, teachers and administrators in a position to continue to plow a path which leaves our children mediocre and behind on an international stage. I give you the "Bulldozer Effect of Industrialized Education" that is out of date, and in need of leadership. 

Unable to Cope with Failure

  • From almost the beginning of my children's education, we have had yearly situations with the allowance of handing in homework late and continuing to receive a passing grade even when it’s clear the concepts are not being taught thoroughly. Now, I want to make clear to you I am not attacking teachers with this post. I believe teachers become teachers to teach, however, the system has made it so that being a teacher means that all children are taught to be mediocre. No push for potential or individual interests. I remember one situation so vividly when my daughter was in elementary school. The night before the last day of school, my daughter was sent home with a project to complete on writing about a person in history. The impression was the project was a class project and was not something which needed to be worked on at home. Yet, prior to the last six hours of the school year, the teacher sent home the project with a note attached that it needed to be completed by the following day, as it was a larger portion of the last marking period grade. Several months earlier, I had met with this teacher during an annual parent-teacher conference and when I asked about some areas where my daughter could use a little more aid I received the standard answer I have now continued to receive from teachers when I’ve asked for more focus on their potential and interests in guiding them to excel. “Don’t worry about it, their kind and a well-behaved student.” I remember this answer annoying me then as much as it does today. My reason for meeting with a teacher has never been about my children’s behavior or attitudes because I’ve taught them respect. Requesting or attending meetings with teachers have been about their education, fostering their interests and making sure they are encouraged to meet their full potential. Educators have been mind-melded to focus on the extreme and push past potential and interest that drives excellence. An area of our country's public education system is sadly being "left behind" on the international stage. 
  • If there is anywhere we want to point fingers at creating young adults who are unable to cope with failure, we may want to look at the lack of creating responsibility for work within the system they are a part of over 1,000 hours every year. When teachers are taught that no child can be left behind or it will mean their jobs, so they push kids through until they are in high school and then expect them to understand the consequences, then all children become mediocre. Sadly only the rich elite, and those who have parents who are able to sacrifice financially have opportunities to possibly reach their full potential within a public education system.

Less Goal-Oriented

  • Let’s be honest, when did you ever take a class during your secondary education that focused on teaching you how to make smart and actionable goals for your life? I promise you the only way you received it is if you took part in a leadership organization like scouts or a military school or were intrigued by the sales and marketing world. Some of you are probably stating by now that sports are the place for this, and to an extent, I agree. Learning to work as a team towards a goal or to be personally fit is an important life-skill, however, I beg to agree that sports provide a firm foundation of goal setting when it comes to decision making and task-focused accountability. This I believe is taught in the leadership and accountability education our children have lacked in receiving in this country due to our industrialized, outdated education system. When a teacher can state in one sentence to me that it’s a class of college prep level but yet not keep or even have a dated syllabus to follow it begs me to wonder how much it is truly a class preparing children for college. When a teacher has so many classes on their schedule and students that he is unable to keep track of the turning in of student work it begs me to not wonder where our youth are learning to be unorganized and seek to blame situations for shortcomings.
  • One year, at the start of middle school, is the only time I remember either of my children needing to be accountable for writing down their homework and having it signed by me to show it was seen. The very first step in understanding how to set an individual goal is learning how to see the specific task that needs to be done to move forward. Our education system has moved away from encouraging this one skill and pushed forward to create a project procrastination mentality. If we are wondering where our children’s lack of organization and goal setting skills are coming from perhaps we need to ask why administrations are bogging down our teachers with so many classes that providing a deadline calendar that stays on track is a challenge that can not be achieved. When as a parent I can attend meetings to only be turned around in circles throughout the year with no straight answers on deadlines for projects or answers for work that was handed in being lost it’s no wonder we have a generation unable to set goals or remain accountable to them. You learn what you see and are taught.

Psychologically Fragile

  • The pressures on teens today is something even I as a young Xenial mother of teens sometimes has a hard time mentally wrapping my brain around. I went through a lot as a teen but I am unsure if I'd be able to cope. Take the first two points I expressed, how our outdated education system is bulldozing them through the one system meant to prepare them and then add on the following:
    • Social media communication is their form of communication; get used to it
    • Active shooter lockdowns and drills; fear just plain fear
    • Open sexuality in cartoons, books, music, and other media; it’s progress but confusing
    • Political divides within families; it’s no longer divorce but who you voted for
    • High rates of childhood hunger; food that isn’t real food
    • Video game rating system that is unenforced
    • Diversity without diversity; when was the last time a school administration which a primarily white population needed to take a diversity training
    • Consumer and addiction mentality; the next phase of addicting our youth without boundaries JUULing

Ask any teen what they hope for their future. I promise you, if they are honest, they have no idea if they have one or not. Many of them will offer up the easiest outlet or solution. Many young men in small towns will state the military without any understanding of what it means or without thought of what may be the other options. Many young women are seeing that traditional paths are still their only options, or seek validation where they received it in high school through sports. Instead of seeing a bigger plowed path to make choices for their future they are being pinched into paths where their full potentials will never be seen or discovered. What’s worse, is I have seen the look of these teens' parents, unsure of what to offer their children. Unsure of how to widen the path because they fear it is too late once high school hits to encourage their child and guide their child to their full potential. A generation of parents without the answers on why their children have been left behind even when they've invested in the system they were told to trust. Parents who are labeled as "Bulldozers" and then rarely receive any help from those who they pay tax dollars to in hope to guide both them and their child to the answers they need to help them access their futures.

I refuse to believe this will be the continued state of parenting or education in our country. If fighting this encouraging our children’s potential makes me a “Bulldozer Parent”, then I’m proud of it and determined to redefine it. I'm unsure if it's because I'm a Xenial (born in the gap of GenX and Millennials) and remember a time where education was different but believed the progress within our grasp for our children. Or if it is because I'm a parent of the first Centennials (born 1998 to present) that I'm part of the first to experience the systems lack of doing what I trusted it to do. What I do know is that I won't sit idly by and let it happen to my children or to my children's friends. The battle was fought for them to have access to achieve their fullest potential for freedom, liberty, and equality.

My new definition of a "Bulldozer Parent" is a parent who does not take no for an answer when it comes to effects passed on to our children due to years of ignoring the habits that have been created in our educational system from “no child left behind”. The effects it has had on smart, capable kids full of potential and who are instead the ones being left to remain mediocre. It's a parent who seeks to advocate for an education system to provide the important life principles of SMART goal-setting and leadership both in their school and in their home.

They are a parent who seeks to understand from their children the weight of the world they have been asked to hold on their shoulders. A world where daily social interaction with friends is through a filtered screen. Where an alarm in school isn’t assumed to be a fire drill but someone with a gun. A time where their sexuality can determine their popularity as early as middle school. That a family member they loved has cut off ties due to their parent’s political views.  Their best friend who is wearing the newest styles also never has enough lunch money. Or one where their privilege or lack of is used as target practice to show how "woke" they are on a topic and a world where possibly having just one person offer you some individual time and guidance could mean the opportunity to JUUL isn’t offered to you in the bathroom after class.

I am a Bulldozer Parent. I am proud of it, and after this last experience with a group of over forty teenagers, I felt a need to be an even more fueled version of what the parent I am. All parents want their children to reach their full potential. We don’t want to protect them from reality, we want them to achieve the reality of their dreams. Not without failure but with the trust that they have been given the tools to get back up. Bulldozer parents desire to trust the system but have witnessed repeatedly that it is broken.

It’s time to bulldoze it down and rebuilt a new one. This is only the start for me on this topic. I'd love to hear your experiences with this as a parent, how you are advocating for better public education, for teachers to be able to teach, and for administrations to see the value of leadership and goal-setting as a part of an active curriculum?