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Generational Hiring > Talent Acquisition

Helicopter Parents: Are They Chopping Their Children’s Careers Short?

You know them (or you may even be one yourself): The parents who “pop in” at company brainstorming meetings, or call the Dean of Students at her house just as she’s digging into her mashed potatoes, or hand-deliver their son or daughter’s resume to the hiring manager, singing-telegram style. There have been adult books written about them–and even cautionary children’s tales. I was leaving work last night when I heard a man refer to his mother as one. That’s right–I’m talking about helicopter parents. They’re everywhere–and the conversation about them isn’t going away.

What is a helicopter parent?
According to Wikipedia, a helicopter parent is a “colloquial, early 21st-century term for a parent who pays extremely close attention to his or her child’s or children’s experiences and problems, particularly at educational institutions.” The term was originally coined in Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay’s 1990 book “Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility.”

How it all started
The idea of “helicopter parents” really gained traction several years ago, when people started to notice baby boomer parents “hovering” over their Millennial high school or college kids and becoming much more participatory in their educational lives, doing everything from scheduling their courses to angrily calling teachers about a bad grade. This was something we hadn’t really been seeing in generations past–generations in which parents were much more hands-off (and, some would add, respectful of their children’s ability to function as adults). As Nancy Gibbs wrote about the mentality of baby boomer parents in an article for Time magazine, “We were so obsessed with our kids’ success that parenting turned into a form of product development.” She added that this type of parenting is largely driven by memory and demography–parents born after 1964 waited longer to marry, and their families are among the smallest in history, leading them to guard their children more closely.

From classrooms to boardrooms
Those Millennial students became Millennial workers whose parents hadn’t stopped working on their behalf, and the problem seeped into the workplace like a leaking My Little Pony lunch thermos. Embarrassing stories abound of parents calling HR to advocate for offering Gary more money for a job, give Lewis that promotion he’s been asking for, or demand to know why they didn’t hire Betsy on the spot. “Submitting resumes without informing my child” has become the new “scheduling all the classes for Bob I wish I would have taken myself.”

How should companies react?
The big question now is, as a recent NPR article points out, should companies push back against the mighty force of helicopter parents in the workplace, or accept–and even embrace–it? Some experts of generational trends stand by the idea that it’s futile to fight this generation of workers’ level of closeness to their parents, and that rather than fight it, businesses should use it to their advantage and get parents on their side. And some businesses are in fact embracing it, even going so far as to initiate “Take Your Parent to Work Day” with the intention of showing parents a glimpse into their child’s work environment (and smoothing over relations with the often irate person on the other end of the phone line). Even mobile applications are acknowledging that parents are an integral part of younger generations’ every move: A new Foursquare app enables users to add the hashtag #mom to a check-in to let mom know they’ve arrived safely at their destination.

Taking flight or running out of fuel?
Are helicopter parents helping their kids further their careers and start building toward their future–or are they sabotaging the very thing they’re trying to protect and nurture? Encouraging parents to be involved in a school setting, when their children still have the promise of a safety net and aren’t completely “free” yet, is much different than when they’re in their early 20s. At that latter point, they’re in the working world and, at least in theory, are living as independent adults whose goal is to grow without that safety net–to show the world who they are and who they’re capable of becoming.

As an employer, what’s your take on helicopter parents? Do you view them as a way to positively influence a candidate or employee–or nuisances who are hindering their son or daughter’s ability to make independent decisions, branch out, learn and grow? Do you look at a candidate or employee more favorably, as they have a caring and supportive background, or negatively, as that influence weighs them down and shows a lack of leadership and problem-solving skills?

What do you think about helicopter parents in the workplace–does your business reject or encourage the practice, and why? Have helicopter parents influenced your hiring decisions?

Amy K. McDonnell

About Amy K. McDonnell

Originally hailing from Ohio, Amy is the editorial manager on the content services team and has been with both CareerBuilder and the city of Chicago for nearly a decade. She writes on a range of recruitment topics on The Hiring Site, striving to bring a dose of clarity and humor to sometimes complicated issues around employee attraction, engagement and retention. When she's not working, Amy spends as much time as possible reading, pretending to be a chef, writing short stories, eating Nutella out of the jar, waiting for CTA buses and trains, going to see her favorite bands live, and spending time with people who inspire and challenge her.


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