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Bring your parents to work day: Positive trend or helicopter parenting?

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 10:04 AM EST, Thu November 14, 2013
  • LinkedIn is sponsoring the workplace initiative "Bring in Your Parents Day"
  • The goal, executives say, is to bridge the generation gap in the digital age
  • Participating parents and employees say the day is not a mark of helicopter parents
  • Parenting expert: Companies should make clear it's not a chance for parents to meddle

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Every year, I wholeheartedly embrace "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" as a chance for my two girls to see why, besides the need to make an income, mommy would spend hours away from them.

Seeing where I work, with whom I work and how we have a "cool" vending machine filled with snacks such as Gummy Bears has helped them understand what I do and why.

And that's precisely the motivation behind the latest incarnation of "Take Your Daughter/Child/Dog to Work Day." (Yes, there is actually a visiting day for dog-lovers!)

On Thursday, 28 companies in 14 countries will be hosting "LinkedIn Bring in Your Parents Day," the first event of its kind created and sponsored by the popular social networking site for professionals.

Individual companies, such as Google, have hosted their own day for parents, but LinkedIn said its event will mark the first time so many companies are participating at once.

Bring your mom and dad to work? At first glance, it sounds like just another opportunity for so-called helicopter parents to get overly involved in their kids' lives. First they were calling up admissions counselors, and then pressing employers for jobs and benefits for their kids. Now they're actually going into their kids' offices? This can't be good!

READ: How helicopter parents can ruin job prospects

But after speaking to parents who plan to visit their adult children's workplaces, as well as those grown-up workers and parenting experts, this seems less like a sign of helicopter parenting run amok and more like a way to bridge the very real digital generation gap.

'My parents have never really understood what I do'

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For Hector Hernandez, 31, a senior business relationship manager at LinkedIn, the day is a chance to finally show his folks what he does and perhaps bring an end to pressures to go into a traditional career his parents more fully understand.

"Since I graduated from college, I got into marketing, I got into tech, and my parents have never really understood what I do," he said with a laugh. "My parents, they're professors, they know academia very well, but they don't have a single clue how you make money in Internet.

"They can come and see this is what I do. This is how I add value to society. Please stop asking me to go back to law school or go back to med school because I'm doing pretty well," said Hernandez.

Hector's dad, Gaston Hernandez, teaches mathematics at the University of Connecticut. When I asked him what his son does for a living, he chuckled.

"I still don't understand exactly what he does," said the elder Hernandez, who admits part of the issue is his son works in a business that didn't exist years earlier. "Lawyers, architects, you know more because you grew up with that."

He said he "naturally" expected his kids would pursue one of those more "traditional" professions.

READ: What is the best job to have in 2013?

Survey: A third of parents don't know what their kids do

Gaston Hernandez is definitely not alone. One in three parents, according to a LinkedIn survey, said they are not completely familiar with what their children do.

Alice Osterman, whose daughter Elizabeth Brown is vice president for human resources for the online real estate site Trulia, said she doesn't even try to explain to friends what her daughter, the youngest of six children, does.

"I tell (friends) the company, and that's good for them," she said from her home in Alamo, California. "I don't actually tell what she does day by day, because I don't know."

Paul Osterman said he doesn't know what his daughter does, either, and looks forward to getting some answers.

"All of our children complain about how tired they are when they work. I'd like to go there and see what they actually do for their paycheck," he said as his wife and daughter cracked up.

READ: What changes with women in the boardroom?

"I was also thinking it would be very interesting to talk to her boss because we know ... all of her little problems growing up and it might do him some good if he heard it from us," the former manager for Ford dealerships said.

"Uh-oh, Elizabeth, are you having second thoughts about having your mom and dad come to your office?" I had to ask.

"Yeah, definitely," the San Francisco-based mom of two kids, 9 and 10, joked.

But all kidding aside, she looks forward to the chance for her parents to see what she does so they can relate more to her professional experience.

"I'm arguably at work more than I am at home with my own family, so it's all about relating," she said. "It'll be nice to have them come and get a glimpse of what I'm talking about and sort of the vibe of how the workplace has changed since they've been in the workplace and maybe better relate to my stories about work."

Getting advice from parents

Part of the goal, said LinkedIn executives, is helping parents have a better understanding of what their kids do so they can provide advice about work. In the company's global survey, 50% of parents said they feel they could help their child if they had a better understanding of what they did.

"We believe that parents do have a lot of wisdom to share with their children, but if they don't understand exactly what it is they do, sometimes it can be hard to give that advice," said Catherine Fisher, LinkedIn's director of corporate communications. "We want to bridge that gap."

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace has always embraced \
CNN's Kelly Wallace has always embraced "Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day" so her girls could what she does and why she does it.

READ: What does it mean to be a digital native?

Parenting expert and clinical psychologist Madeline Levine, author of two New York Times best-selling books including "Teach Your Children Well," says the visits could seal that gap between "the digital natives and us immigrants."

But, she says, the event shouldn't be an excuse for parents "to stick their nose in their kids' business." She said participating companies would be wise to make that very clear.

"If the parent comes home and says, 'I noticed that so and so's mother was saying she made more money than you made, what's that about?' Then it's a disaster," said Levine, a mom of three grown sons.

READ: Bring your baby to work day -- every day

The anti-helicopter parent

Neither the Hernandez family nor the Ostermans show any signs of taking this experiment too far. In fact, when I asked them if they were helicopter parents, they laughed.

"Actually, we sometimes criticized ourselves," said Hernandez, who moved to the U.S. from Chile. "We didn't get involved enough."

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Alice Osterman said, "Our attitude on parenthood is to have them well-educated, train them morally and spiritually ... and then, 'Good luck.' "

"My idea was just to say, 'OK, you're 21 kid. Get going,'" said Paul Osterman, without missing a beat. (The couple has been married for nearly 60 years.)

Brown, the Ostermans' daughter, said she doesn't think the idea of this day perpetuates the notion of helicopter parenting.

"I think it more just acknowledges that the lines are being blurred between work and home and so why not lean in to that and make sure that everyone can appreciate everyone's experience," she added.

She's looking forward to a session where the participating parents will give her and her colleagues advice and just having her parents get a glimpse into her work environment.

"People sitting on yoga balls at their desks and all the food in the kitchen," she said. "Things that I talk to them about, but it's almost beyond their imagination."

Her dad chimed in: "She's also hoping her father will keep his mouth shut."

Follow Kelly Wallace on Twitter and like CNN Living on Facebook.

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