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Why the Millennials' Parents Will Continue to Stay Involved in Their Kids Lives at Work... and Why That's a Good Thing

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In the workshops I teach on generational differences, nothing stirs up more disdain than helicopter parents. We have all seen those parents who constantly hover over their child and then jump to rescue them when a soccer coach doesn't play them enough or a teacher gives their report a "C" grade. We can tell which science fair projects the parents did for their kids. And don't get me started on how difficult it is to explain to your Cub Scout why they have to build their Pine Wood Derby car even if they lose against laser cut, professionally-painted versions done by a dad.

Helicopter parents don't stop when their Millennial child gets a job. They phone or write the human resources department to argue that their child should have received the internship or promotion. They call the boss and explain why their child can't come into work just as they phoned when their kid missed a day in high school. They ask to come to job interviews. The head of recruiting for an international pharmaceutical company told me that young applicants asked to bring their parents to the interview often enough that they had to create a standardized response.

I'm not a fan of helicopter parents, but many of my clients would say I'm overly involved because I spent more than six hours the past couple weeks talking my Millennial son through a tricky situation he faced at work. They would say I'm babying my son and that he ought to learn to stand on his own feet, make his own mistakes, and learn the hard way. They would go on to tell me that even though they aren't as bad as helicopter parents, overly involved parents make things more complicated for them as managers because:
  • They coach their kids on interview and compensation negotiation techniques.
  • They need to be convinced as much as their child before the child accepts the job.
  • They disagree with what their supervisor tells them.
  • They make suggestions for improvement that their kids pass on at work.
  • They give their kids questions to ask their supervisor that those kids wouldn't have the experience to ask on their own.

While helicopter parents are understandably frustrating for supervisors, nothing on this list of complications is unusual today or a sign of a helicopter or "overly involved" parent. This is the new normal that I tell my clients they need to get used to: the involved or "engaged" parent. Supervisors may not like it, but our kids want us involved in their lives far more than we wanted our parents involved in our lives and many of us have the relevant experience to coach them. And coach we do.

There's a big difference between helicopter parents or what my clients sometimes call "overly involved" parents, and the typical involved parents. Unless you understand the difference, you'll be frustrated in this four-generation work world. As I say in my book Sticking Points, "This is not just a case of overprotective parents -- Millennials and their parents have a mutual affection and admiration." Almost half of Millennials pick their parents as role models and heroes over celebrities or friends. Boomers saw their parents as part of the establishment, while Millennials see their parents as resources to help them get established. Millennials talk to their parents more than other generations do. They asked for their parents help in networking for a job as well as their advice and whether they should take it. There's not the same generation gap there was between Traditionalists and Boomers.

But there's a second reason involved parents are the new normal. Millennials turn to their parents for coaching because their parents have relevant experience that most Traditionalists did not have. Previous generations lived on the farm or in smaller towns. They worked in small businesses or factories and interacted with small government offices. According to the Census Bureau, in 1940 only 24 percent of the population 25 and older had completed high school, and only 5 percent had bachelor's degrees. As a result, they didn't have relevant experiences with large universities, complex government agencies, or multinational businesses.

Consequently, most Traditionalists and many Baby Boomers had to figure out college and career on their own.

So to the generations who couldn't ask their parents for guidance, Millennials seem coddled by today's parents who talk to them about everything. But most are not coddled, they are coached. Coached by Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who have the relevant experience to help them avoid unnecessary mistakes or hassles. We can deal with generational differences more effectively if we understand that Millennials are the product of the most educated parents in history. I get it; helicopter parents need to come down to earth. But get this, we involved parents are not going away.


Additional sourcing: Thom S. Rainer and Jess W. Rainer, The Millennials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation (Nashville: B&H, 2011), 57

Haydn Shaw is the author of Sticking Points: How to Get Four Generations Working Together in the 12 Places They Come Apart. He blogs about generations, leadership, change management, and teams at mygenerationalcoach.com.