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How helicopter parents can ruin kids' job prospects

updated 12:24 PM EDT, Tue July 2, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hiring managers find that some parents are overly involved in their kids' first jobs
  • "Helicopter parents" might call to inquire about benefits or job duties
  • These parents can diminish their children's credibility and independence
  • Employers and behavior experts advise allowing a child to make mistakes and grow

(CNN) -- Nicole Williams thought she had found the ideal job applicant -- until a phone call came from Mom.

Only thing was it wasn't her mom; it was the potential employee's.

"She wanted to know everything from where [the job candidate] would be sitting to a review of her responsibilities," said Williams, the career expert for LinkedIn, the professional networking site.

"I withdrew the offer," she said.

This wasn't the only time Williams had encountered the parental presence of a young employee.

She previously had a call from a parent who didn't agree with her son's performance proposal and asked if she could come into her office to discuss. In a presentation in front of new clients, Williams also witnessed a new graduate using the phrase "my dad thinks" as it pertained to the project.

As college students and graduates seek entry into the world of 9-to-5 this summer via internships and full-time jobs, parents that previously helped select their child's course load are turning their attention to their child's employer.

However, what these so-called helicopter parents might not realize is that their hovering ways can undermine their child's advancement, instead of making them soar.

In 2012, University of Cincinnati senior Aubrey Ireland filed and won a civil stalking order against her parents after unannounced visits and cyber-monitoring, among other complaints.

"It's just been really embarrassing and upsetting to have my parents come to my university when I'm a grown adult and just basically slander my name and follow me around," Ireland said in a court hearing.

"She's an only child who was catered to all her life by loving parents," Julie Ireland, Aubrey's mom, fired back in court. "We're not bothering her. We're not a problem."

The term "helicopter parent" sealed its fate as part of the American lexicon when it was introduced into the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 2011 as "a parent who is overly involved in the life of his or her child."

A spring 2013 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that companies expect to hire approximately 2.1% more college graduates from the Class of 2013 than they did from the Class of 2012; a promising outlook that can only add fuel to a helicopter parent's engine.

But, when searching for that employment, first impressions should be left to the child, not the parent, said consultant and recruiter Stacy Pursell.

"My thought is if they are too busy to conduct their own job search, then I am too busy to help them find a position," Pursell said.

Parenting psychologists along with career experts like Williams and Pursell assert that hovering guardians are stalling their kids' hiring future by being hyper-present.

"You are not doing your kid any favors. Encourage them to share their fears, thoughts and ideas with you after hours and you can absolutely do the same," Williams said. "But make it clear that he/she has to form and express their own opinions and create their own experiences in order to build professional confidence and respect."

Williams says as much as parents would like to, they can't give their children a career -- their children have to earn it.

"When it comes down to it, as a parent you want to give your child the best and protect them from distress," she said. But being overprotective isn't helping them either.

Aaron Cooper, a clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, says mollycoddling mothers and doting dads can become a child's crutch.

Cooper says children, for the most part, often experience too many advantages of their omnipresent parents by the time they reach their teen years, so they're not particularly inclined to tell mom and dad to back off.

"They're more inclined to welcome the help because they are also seeing it as a cheerleader on their team pushing forward toward victory and success," Cooper said.

But "it's almost like a soft disability in their lives," he added, meaning that children become super reliant on their parents and unable to stand on their own.

Cooper attributes the growing phenomenon of over-parenting to a variety of factors. The first commonality is feelings of guilt that parents may have short-changed their children.

This is particularly potent when the parents have had full-time careers and may feel that they never really spent enough time with the children as they grew up. Cooper says it's the "I'm-going-to-make-up-for-it mentality."

Cooper also says children have increasingly become an emblem of their parents' success.

"It's part of our own resume as parents to indicate how accomplished our children are. Their resume is a kind of extension of our resume," Cooper says.

This wasn't the case 50 years ago, he asserts. Parents left their children alone a lot more, and they looked for signs of their own success in life.

Today helicopter parenting, he says, is an increasing sign of the influence of the middle-class. With the median household income in the United States as $52,762, according to U.S. Census Bureau, parents might be able to focus less on their own day-to-day economic struggles and focus more on their children's day-to-day lives.

Not to mention, Cooper says, the 24/7 connectivity now makes it easier for kids and parents to trade resumes, job listings, even human resource contacts with the click of the mouse.

Williams and Pursell, like Cooper, say while parental advice is always valuable, certain areas of the job search should be considered a no-fly zone.

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"It is OK to do some online research to help their child find a job, but when it comes to actually contacting an employer or a recruiter, the applicant needs to make that inquiry themselves," Pursell said.

As for something solely left up to the parents? Learning how to step away.

Not doing so is "making it hard to develop resilience, self-sufficiency and autonomy," Cooper said. "If they [children] have not developed the resilience by their teenage years, we don't know if they will ever develop it."

At what point do you think helping becomes smothering? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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