Liftoff for 'helicopter' parents

If employers start involving parents with hiring, when do young people learn from mistakes as well as successes?

Many parents who hovered over their children from pre-K through college are now following them to their first job. They're coaching their kids for interviews, attending job fairs, and in a few cases, negotiating salaries. Some firms view this as a new normal, but it's troubling.

In recent years, overinvolved parents have come to be known as "helicopters." When their kids are in college, such parents might "edit" their children's term papers or call them in the morning to wake them up for class. Now that their graduate is entering the workforce, they might "edit" a résumé or phone a prospective employer to learn about the hiring process.

That's the more standard version. The extremists, dubbed "Blackhawks," might call a professor to try to change a grade or phone an employer to argue about a performance review. Both varieties raise the question as to whether this degree of involvement at this stage in young adults' development hinders more than helps them navigate life.

In what appears to be the first scholarly study of helicoptering, the University of Texas-Austin has found that it crosses racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic lines. About 60 to 70 percent of parents show some helicoptering behavior, according to the study's interviews with officials at 10 public universities.

Close-tab parenting is a phenomenon assisted by today's communication technology. Such parenting is the MO of many baby boomers who have fewer children than their parents did and more wealth and resources for child rearing.

But there's more than cellphones and demographics at work. Research in the early '80s showed that parents can greatly influence the development of their offspring, from gestation on. These findings put them into high anxiety about molding "perfect" children.

Along with this came a wave of concern about safety. "Baby on board" triangles and "nanny cams" were signs of the times. Child safety is important. But the emphasis can lead to a dangerous trend toward infantilizing grown children.

Also, boomers can be competitive, driven to gain material success. They instill such values in their kids – sometimes to the exclusion of other virtues, such as patience and independence.

A new generation of parents might do things differently. But some factors behind helicoptering, such as technology, are unlikely to change. That's why some companies are bringing parents into the loop. Last year, Merrill Lynch invited parents of interns to tour their offices. Ernst & Young offers parent information packs. Vanguard Group asks potential hires if they want news of offers shared with anyone (i.e., parents).

Recruiters know that many graduates will consult with parents anyway. To attract top talent, they're willing to keep the folks informed. But that may invite direct parental involvement and create serious management problems.

Some colleges are trying to tell parents that love also means letting go. That parents care deeply about their adult children, and that many of these young people consider their parents friends, is good news. But if employers involve parents with hiring, when do young people learn from mistakes and act for themselves? When do parents achieve liftoff and rediscover lives of their own?

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