Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hovering parents

While drinking my coffee as I surfed the morning news shows, my attention was seized by a segment about 'helicopter parents' and 'black hawk' parents, the latter being a recently minted pejorative term for those who cross the parental/adult offspring dividing line to commit acts that are at best deceitful, at worst border on the criminal in order to protect their Gen Y 'children.'

Gen Y refers to people born from the early eighties onward and apparently they are the most pampered, over-achieving, technically and financially savvy, and parentally micro-managed generation ever to enter the workforce, which they are now doing in huge numbers. Their schooling, hobbies, friendships and social activities have been meticulously managed to exhausting degrees. The upside is that these young adults feel very connected to their parents. The downside is that these young adults feel very connected to their parents.

Gen Yers are used to constant positive feedback from their parents and, as they enter the work environment, fully expect to have this affirming, ego-boosting feedback shuttle continue from their bosses and become disorientated, resentful and alienated when it doesn't. Simply stated, they have been unable to cut the apron strings and continue to involve their parents in the minutest details of their lives, allowing them to write their college entrance essays (hence the term 'black hawk' parents because Mom and Dad are prepared to resort to this and other forms of cheating in a sort of 'the end justifies the means' strategy), to scope out possible employers, prepare their resumes, attend and inspect the workplace,interview bosses and in other ways interfere.

It must be said that some Gen Yers resent their parents continued interference in their adult lives, though the parents ignore their wishes and often justify the unreasonable interference by asserting they are simply looking after their investment. Indeed some corporations have become so frustrated with this form of bizarre parental interference that they now invite parents in to inspect the workplace and arrange for personnel departments to discuss their 'children's' prospects were they to accept a job with the company. I kid you not.

Interestingly, I noticed a few years into living in the States that America parents really do seem to have trouble letting go in comparison to Europeans parents in general. They still refer to their children as kids after they've left for college, for example. Perhaps it's the laws that have something to do with it because I've always found it a bit bizarre that someone can vote or marry at age 18 yet can't buy a bottle of booze until after turning 21 here. Let's face it, one is a fully functioning adult at 18. In Brit and Ireland, we leave to go to university at 18 and we're on our own from there. That's how it should be and, in this respect, I think the European approach is far more mature. I think helicopter parents just doesn't exist as a dysfunction over there.

Here's a link I came across at ABC to a day in the life of a helicoper parent that I thought you might find amusing...or sad depending on one's perspective.

I suspect this dysfunction to be more associated with mothers than fathers but time will tell. Though I realized many years ago after the thunderheads of teenage angst and petulance had dissipated, my parents were actually very normal. Now I know it.


Debra Hamel said...

That's crazy. That woman does more for her 21-year-old than I do for my 11-year-old. Email to-do lists? I just tell her she has to learn how to budget her time more efficiently, and I have suggested she make her *own* list.

Anyway, those boys are going to have weird expectations of their wives, should they ever get married.

Martha O'Connor said...

Thanks for this post, Damian. This is the same generation I taught when they were eighth graders. I must tell you, the parents I had to deal with were far more difficult than the kids. One mom stormed into my classroom in a fury about her son's "demoralizing" mid-term report. Yes, he was receiving an F at mid-term and I felt she should know he was turning in next to no homework. Hm, this is my fault how? And I can't tell you how many papers written by forty-something women I graded.

They really hated it when I gave them C+'es.

Damian McNicholl said...

Crazy is correct, Debra...and the expectations will be high.

LOL at the C+ grades, Martha.