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Under Hovering Helicopter Parents, Millennials’ Careers Can’t Soar


The over-involved parents of Millennials — aka "helicopter parents"–have been known to frequent their kids' high schools and colleges, scheduling and planning a large part of their lives. As Gen Y comes of age, parents now are showing up at business schools and in the workplace, and some say they're hindering their adult children's chances for success.

An Associated Press story on explains:

“It has now reached epidemic proportions,” says Michael Ellis, director of career and life education at Delaware Valley College, a small, private school in Doylestown, Pa.

At the school’s annual job fair last year, he says, one father accompanied his daughter, handed out her resume and answered most of the questions the recruiters were asking the young woman. Even more often, he receives calls from parents, only to find out later that their soon-to-be college grad was sitting next to the parent, quietly listening.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Jobs counselors at universities across the country say experiences like those are now commonplace.

“My main concern is the obvious need of the students to develop their independence and confidence,” says Kate Brooks, director of the Liberal Arts Career Center at the University of Texas. “I think it’s great that parents want to share their advice — and even better that students of this age are willing to listen — but I think the boundaries get crossed sometimes.”

What can be done to stop such boundary-crossings?

Sever the Unhealthy Tie

Millennials themselves are best suited to prevent parents’ excessive involvement from damaging their career potential. One of my sources, Anna Ivey, a Boston-based career and admissions counselor, says by leaving parents out of the equation, Millennials boost their chances of success. According to one of her blog-posts on helicopter parents:

Go against the herd. You’ll distinguish yourself in the admissions process, in school, in the hiring process, and on the job if you present yourself as an independent, mature adult and leave mommy and daddy at home.

To parents, Ivey says:

Stop infantilizing your adult children, and stop living through them vicariously. (I wonder if there is such a thing as narcissism by proxy?)  You are doing them no favors by depriving them of important life skills and experiences, and you’re making them look like incapable, pampered toddlers in front of people they’re trying to impress.

Ivey is right. Twenty-somethings don’t want to be thirty- and forty-something and still relying on their parents to help with work-related decisions. Helicopter parents and their adult children need to cut the unhealthy chords. The children then will be free, free to experience the peaks and valleys of careers, to fall down and pick back up, invariably making choices all their own.

Employers Need a Plan

Of course employers aren’t without recourse. They too can limit parents’ hovering–though some employers are embracing it. According to an article in Forbes:

Rather than ridicule the behavior, companies like Merrill Lynch, Office Depot and others are starting to include parents in their recruiting efforts. …

Office Depot has a page on its Web site devoted to job candidates’ parents that directs them to a book on how to be supportive without being too intrusive. In some of its locations Enterprise Rent-A-Car sends a letter to parents of students who have been offered a position detailing the offer and explaining exactly what the job is.

Cam Marston, a source for my recent stories on generational dynamics, says we’ll be seeing more helicopter parents in the workplace, so employers need to devise a strategy for dealing with them.

“I tell my audiences to be prepared for your young hires’ parents to show up and be involved. Whether it’s literally, in e-mail or phone calls,” explains Marston, a consultant who focuses on multigenerational communications. “My advice to managers is not to be shocked by it. Either embrace it or turn it away.”

That’s wise advice. Having a plan will make employers more effective no matter what their approach–though I see no reason why they should put up with a new hire’s overbearing parents. It’s a poor use of time and resources.

What do you think of helicopter parents? Will their approach damage their kids’ careers?

Adam Phillabaum
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