Parents don’t belong at job fairs with their adult children. Nor should they go along to job interviews with their teenagers.
Yet they are showing up with some regularity, which is making it hard for young adults to learn to make their own way in the world.
While helicopter parents undoubtably mean well—and I reluctantly include myself in that group, although I have my limits—constant hovering makes it difficult for our children to learn how to make decisions and solve problems on their own. We rationalize that we wish someone had done that for us.
So what can we do to make sure our children are prepared to go out into the world and make a good living? And that we’re not keeping Junior on the family payroll years after college ends or putting off our own retirement because we’re having to shoulder the car payments, college loans or other bills from our grown children?
One way is to make sure we have “good solid conversations” with our high-schoolers about what they’re expected to do with their expensive college educations, says Sally Koslow, author of the new book Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations From the Not-So-Empty Nest.
The prevailing view is, “Honey, follow your dream,” Koslow says. But as teens become young adults, it's important to get them focused on a career path that will lead to financial self-sufficiency.
There are not as many of those conversations going on as there should be, says Koslow, who writes about adult children who come back to live with mom and dad. Or after getting a high-priced education, they spend years travelling the world working in low-wage or, worse, no-wage jobs to find themselves. Or they gallivant off to Asia to find their inner spirit.
Rarely do the jobs, or growth excursions, come with retirement plans or corporate housing. Or much of a way to pay off student loan debt and launch a career. And by bypassing the traditional path of finding a good job, buying a car and saving for a house, many find themselves shut out when they eventually decide to settle down.
It's important to set expectations clearly and early, says Marlene Rubin, who recently retired as a college and career counsellor at Bellaire High School, US.
Each of her four children graduated from college in four years, and she credits her husband with setting the bar. The children were told while they were still in high school that they would be subsidized for only four years of college. Beyond that, it was up to them (except if the actual degree required an extra year).
The children were also responsible for earning their own pocket money, Rubin says. That helped after they graduated.
The two children who worked all the way through college had an easier time landing their first post-college jobs, Rubin says, speculating that their work histories and time-management skills worked in their favour.
However, that focus on building a culture of responsibility for young adults isn't always top-of-mind for many parents.
Most parents are focused on getting their children ready for college, Rubin says. But tips on how to build responsibility in teens so they're self-sufficient adults? Rubin can't recall getting a lot of questions on that subject.
Another way to keep your children from boomeranging back home or shirking responsibility for their credit card debt later is to give them responsibility starting as toddlers, Koslow says.
Preschoolers can pick up their toys and help set the table, while older children should make their own beds and learn to do their own laundry. Teens should learn car repair and take turns making dinner for the family.
“Parents need to set expectations for very young children,” Koslow says, much like it was in the 1950s and early 1960s.
But many parents are focused more on “line items” for their children's résumé—think sports teams and dance competitions and all the activities that fill a child's day—rather than instilling the importance of family responsibilities.
Hmmm. I think I’ll call home and ask my 15-year-old son what’s for dinner.
©2012/The New York Times
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