“Hi Ashley!” came the chipper voice on the other end of the line. “I’m so excited for our call!”
“Great!” I said. “Let’s get started!”
But before I could get the ball rolling on the phone consultation, she interjected:
“Before we get started in our consultation, I just wanted to introduce you to my mom, who is also on the phone line.”
I’m a career coach to millennials, but for a moment I wondered if she’d confused me for her wedding planner.
The client paperwork I printed in advance of the call confirmed that there was no confusion on my end: Rachel was a 26-year-old Cornell graduate. She spent the last two years serving with Teach for America . She had a master’s degree in education.
She was looking to hire me because she wanted to get clarity on her next career move – arguably one of the most important and independent decisions any of us will tackle in adulthood.
… So why did her mom need to be on the call?
Many helicopter parents justify their over-involvement as a means to ensure their child is prepared for the real world.
Unfortunately, these efforts have had an overkill effect, and millennials are now the most protected and programmed generation in history.
Making matters worse, as these young adults make their way into the real world, the parental involvement doesn’t always taper off; in fact, in many cases, it intensifies.
Roughly 33% of millennials today say their parents are very involved in their job hunt process. One in 10 say their parents have accompanied them to job interviews and 3% of recent college graduates report that their parents have actually sat in on the interview.
When it comes time to accept a job offer, seven out of 10 college recruits say they need to speak to their parents first. Considering the fact that millennials talk to their parents on average 8.8 times a week, perhaps this hyper-involvement is to be expected. But that doesn’t make it okay.
While it’s beautiful that today’s parents take an interest in their children’s lives, there’s a point at which they are doing more harm than good.
1. You’re disempowering your child. Many children of helicopter parents struggle with problem-solving, low self-esteem and fear of failure. They also have higher levels of depression and anxiety. Your involvement in their decisions tacitly speaks for how much you believe in their ability to do things on their own, so the data is not really surprising. Unfortunately, the detrimental impact of your involvement doesn’t just end with the child’s mental and emotional well-being: Studies show that students with helicopter parents have a harder time finding employment after graduation.
2. Your child will have no coping skills. Helicopter parenting increases dependence and leads to diminished decision-making ability and coping skills. It’s just plain fact your kids won’t achieve as much for themselves unless they actually want it. When you are making your child’s decisions or playing a hands-on role in their career development, you’re not equipping them with necessary skills to independently handle conflicts, disappointments, or failures – you’re equipping them with entitlement issues. The best way for the child to get the self-esteem she needs to achieve success is to work for it – that’s the only way she will get to know the feeling of true accomplishment.
3. You’re not even helping from an authentic place. Studies show that this intrusive “helicopter” behavior is driven by parental anxiety, rather than good intentions, as so many parents claim. If you’re following your child into adulthood, it likely has more to do with your own fears, rather than your child’s ability to manage his or her life. You’re worried about how people will judge you or your child if they go down the “wrong” path or make “mistakes.”
You may also be subconsciously worried that you will lose your purpose in life if you are no longer parenting your child, so you continue to superimpose this behavior on them. Many children of helicopter parents resent the hovering when it follows them into the workplace – roughly 25% of millennials say their parents are involved to the point of humiliation and annoyance. However, these kids are often scared to tell their parents to back off because it would create a rift in the family dynamic. In any event, it’s self-motivated, self-serving and detrimental to the one person it claims to help: The child.
4. You’re not going to live forever. And they’re going to have to keep participating in society. It’s bad enough to lose a parent, but if you’ve been hand-feeding your kid his life plans, he’s going to plateau – or bottom out – when you’re not around. Empowering your kid to make his own decisions isn’t just about setting him up for success – it’s about giving him the coping skills he needs to weather the hard times, too. The messages your kids get from you now, even in adulthood, are the ones they’ll repeat long after you’re gone. So instead of sending the message of “I’m always here to help” – which can also be interpreted as “you’re not capable of doing this yourself” – try saying “I believe in you,” and “I trust your judgment” and “I’m proud of you.” As long as your actions are aligned with those messages, your efforts will go a lot further in building up your child’s resilience and strength, and as a parent you should know there will come a time when he will really need those traits.
5. Your kid will make less money. Low self-esteem that develops during adolescence can have serious consequences in adulthood, including on your child’s ability to support him or herself. Studies show that self-esteem is a positive indicator of future earnings, so perhaps it’s time to let your child make their own decisions, learn from the outcome, and start building the confidence they will need to succeed emotionally, professionally and financially.
Personally, my practice has no room for helicopter parents, because I can’t allow the parent to continue disempowering their child as they enter into what should be an empowered relationship with me.
I have nothing against close parent-child relationships; in fact, I generally think it’s lovely when clients refer to their parents as their best friends. But there is a world of difference between supporting your child and steering your child’s life, so if your kid is job hunting and you’re still in the driver’s seat, the relationship is due for a switch-up.
Take Rachel, for example…I immediately acknowledged her mom for taking an interest in her career, but I let her know that my first step in being a powerful coach to Rachel is in challenging her to trust her own unique voice.
This meant her mom needed to hang up the phone. She obliged, and I was inspired to see Rachel showing up for herself in a way she perhaps never had before.
Rachel recently told me that people had been commenting on her newfound confidence and apparent happiness. Landing a plum position at the Department of Education certainly contributed to her improved self-esteem, but what she told me should inspire all helicopter parents to bring the bird in for a smooth – and final – landing:
“It’s not just that I got my dream job,” she told me. “It’s that I did something for myself that was unthinkable in the past: I got there all on my own.”