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March 2012:

Helicopter Parents: Ground Yourselves

By Oren D. Saltzman and Eric D. Disharoon

March 6, 2012

Posted in: Salute to Higher Education

“Helicopter parenting” is a phenomenon in which overprotective parents discourage their children’s independence by “swooping” in to help at the first sign of a challenge or adversity.

Historically, the incidents of hovering parents were limited to school and extracurricular activities. Recently, though, helicopter parents have begun contacting higher education institutions on behalf of their children. They ask their children’s advisers or professors to discuss matters ranging from their children’s educational issues to their housing assignments.

Lessons of Independence

For most of us, college was the first taste of independence, a time to make our own choices and mistakes. We learned how to get along with roommates that were our polar opposites, why not to procrastinate when studying for finals and how to talk with professors about bad grades.

Because of the increased communication between students and parents (via texts, e-mails, instant messaging and Skype), parents know more about their college-age children’s lives (and problems). By overly involving themselves in their children’s lives, helicopter parents could be doing more harm than good.

According to clinical psychologist Mark Crawford, children of helicopter parents can grow up to be anxious adults who won’t/can’t go out of their comfort zone and who tend to blame others for their poor choices.

Some colleges (e.g., UCLA, University of Maryland, McDaniel College) are implementing orientation programs to help parents loosen the reins while remaining involved in their children’s lives. The philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross is to try to show helicopter parents that both the school and the parents want to prepare the student for independent living.

Beyond College

Many helicopter parents can’t let go even after their kids graduate and enter the workforce. They find themselves contacting their children’s employers to negotiate benefits packages, follow up after poor or merely satisfactory performance evaluations or to express interest in internships.

In the current economy, employers are being inundated with applications from strong candidates. Think about it. Who makes for a more desirable employee: a confident adult who is capable of achieving on his or her own (because that individual was allowed to make mistakes and learn from them) or someone who runs to his or her parents at the slightest difficulty?

There is nothing wrong with parents wanting to give their child the benefit of the life lessons they have learned (most likely gained through their mistakes), as long as they do it the right way.

The following assistance is appropriate (if requested by the child).

• Reviewing a child’s résumé and offering constructive criticism

• Submitting the child’s résumé to any contacts the parents may have (without shoving it down the throat of every manager/employer they know)

• Helping the child prepare for an interview with practice questions and advice on appropriate attire

• Sharing strategies that worked for the parent when dealing with a difficult co-worker or supervisor

The following tactics are inappropriate.

• Allowing a child to embellish his or her background (employers generally have policies that allow them to terminate employees who provided false information during the application process, regardless of their performance since)

• Accompanying the child into the interview

• Contacting an employer directly

Guide; Don’t Hover

A Michigan State University survey of 700-plus employers seeking to hire recent college graduates offered some astounding results.

• Nearly one-third of the employers said parents had submitted résumés on their child’s behalf, some without even informing the child.

• One-quarter reported hearing from parents urging the employer to hire their child for a position.

• Four percent of respondents reported that a parent actually showed up for the candidate’s job interview.

As parents, you have made a significant investment in your child’s future, so it’s only natural to want to do all you can to give your child the best chance to succeed. Your guidance and experience certainly can help; however, it is important to know when your assistance can become a hindrance, particularly in the workplace.

In short, let your child earn the experiences. Share the wisdom you have gained with your young adult, but don’t hover over him in the workplace. Like many states, Maryland is an at-will employment state. Unless there is an employment contract for a specified term, an employee can be fired at any time, with or without cause, with or without notice, so long as the termination is not discriminatory. Although well-intentioned, your hovering ultimately could cost the child his job.

Oren D. Saltzman, Esq., is a member and Eric D. Disharoon, Esq., is an associate with the law firm of Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler LLC (www.AdelbergRudow.com). They may be reached at 410-539-5195.

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