The latest thing going viral on parenting sites and hitting TV talk shows is an essay written by a middle school teacher about the dangers of "lawnmower parenting." The example the teacher used to point at the larger issue was a father who had dropped off a water bottle for his daughter because she kept texting him for it. The term may be new, but the parenting style isn't. We've heard it before – helicopter, bulldozer, even snowplow.

No matter the name, it describes parents who hover over their children, jumping in to rescue them at the first sign of trouble – mowing down all obstacles in an effort to protect them from any potential inconvenience, problem, or discomfort. No matter what you call it, it isn't good.

And the professionals sounding the warning bells are not just middle school teachers, pediatricians, and psychologists, but college professors and even employers. It's because parents have been "lawnmowering" for years and their children, now young adults, are incapable of mowing down their own "grown-up" challenges.

What are the warning signs you're a lawnmower parent?

You can start exhibiting symptoms when your child is just a toddler.

  • Do you prevent them from exploring their surroundings, especially the playground, for fear they might get hurt?
  • Do you continually trail after them applying hand sanitizer?
  • Do you "come to the rescue" when their friends won't share a toy or you see a fight in the making?

For older children:

  • Do you go overboard helping with homework or do the assignment yourself?
  • Do you complain to the coach when your child doesn't get the position they want? Even worse, do you go to the principal if the coach doesn't give in?
  • If your child isn't invited to a party, do you call the other parent to demand an invitation?
  • If your child left something home that isn't essential to health, do you rush to school and bring it to him or her?

If you do, you might find yourself lawnmowering your college-age children, such as helping them select their courses and clubs.

And it doesn't end there. In Amy Morin's book, 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do, she cited the growing number of parents who intercede on their children's behalf in the workplace. She wrote:

In a survey conducted by Michigan State University, 32 percent of large companies report they hear from employees' parents. About 31 percent of hiring managers say they've seen parents submit their children's resumés for them, 4 percent experienced parents attending interviews with their adult children, and 9 percent say parents have tried negotiating their child's salary. She also pointed out that some HR departments report getting phone calls from parents when their child receives disciplinary action.

Now knowing these signs, how can you avoid becoming a lawnmower parent?

For toddlers: Give them the freedom to explore their environment, learn how to negotiate friendships, and cut back on the hand sanitizer. A little dirt won't hurt.

For school-age kids: Let your children do the talking as often as possible, such as ordering a pizza over the phone or going to the teacher if they need help with a difficult assignment.  Have them be responsible for daily chores, packing their lunch, or putting their laundry away.

High school kids: While there is still room for parental involvement, insist that your children attempt all communication on their own at first. If they don't get up on time for school, don't wake them. Let them be late. If they forgot to do their homework, have them deal with the consequences. If they didn't get the grade they wanted on a test, tell them to ask the teacher for help and study harder.

When you ask parents what they want for their children, most will say, "All I want is for them to be happy." One of the hardest lessons we have to learn as parents is that we have no control over that. No matter how hard we try to protect them from harm, disappointments, or failure, we can't. And in most cases, it's good for them to experience roadblocks and difficulties. What we must do is allow them to gain the skills necessary to build confidence and competence so they can find happiness on their own.