Curing Helicopter Parenting: How To Help Your Millennial Or Gen Z Kid To Launch And Thrive

Imagine if your parents butted into your job search and career decisions, your love life, business and finances — even spiritual matters. They might mean well, but you’d be mortified.

Well, for tens of millions of millennials and Gen Zers with uncertain job prospects, high student loan balances, useless degrees and avocado-toast-eating ways, this is a daily reality and a reasonable expectation.

Marriage and kids are getting postponed, among other big life decisions. No wonder anxiety is at an all-time high, despite the growing economy.

And, in a far cry from the old American tradition of kicking a kid out of the house at 18, surprising numbers of middle class and above parents host their adult children back home well into their twenties and even thirties, hovering around and haranguing their kin about finances, work, marriage, spirituality and other life choices.

Anecdotes abound among hiring managers of helicopter parents trolling them on Twitter, calling, sending cake and otherwise butting into functions formerly reserved for adults without family interference.

The impact of helicopter parents, who’ve raised their children on a steady diet of participation trophies, “You can be anything you want to be,” tutors, grade inflation, bumper lanes and safe alternatives, has long come home to roost.

Millions of “kids” well into their twenties and beyond feel unengaged at work, incapable of meaningful friendships or romantic relationships, saving for a rainy day, paying off their student loans, holding down a job for more than 18 months — or impressing their parents with their accomplishments. Many are drifting through the gig economy while building their “portfolio careers” without a steady income, meaningful health coverage or a 401(k).

As a millennial myself, I know all these struggles well — too well, perhaps. And, as a coach who’s worked with hundreds of them, I have noted patterns.

It isn’t that they’re missing hunger or ambition — they’re just lost. Many quite simply couldn’t tell you their life mission, values, how they add real value in a business or help others tangibly or even what exactly they’d pursue if money and time were not issues.

Much electronic and real ink has been spilled to analyze, malign and write-off these millennials. Lost-generation vitriol and doomsday demographic outlooks miss the mark. Our patterns of consumption and employment may be different, but the basics haven’t changed.

Most all of us still want stability, a family and home, and to be successful in our work, businesses and relationships, just like the generations that have come before. We often need a little guidance or a push to get us to enlightenment.

Material support is not a guarantee. Breakthroughs can come without a trust fund or connections at the ready. To truly help their children to thrive adulting-wise, here are the steps parents can take for positive and lasting impact.

1. Look in the mirror and get vulnerable. Be a relatable human first, and only then a parent. You were young once, you made mistakes and probably many of the same ones your kids made. You learned your lessons and are coming from a place of wisdom, not superiority.

To get across to them, show that you love them with no strings attached, no matter what. Without this, there can be no hope of them taking your advice or guidance seriously.

2. Make it a two-way street. Just as your parents and their parents didn’t know it all, neither do you. Times change, and people evolve. Don’t try to vaccinate your wisdom as a reflex. Listen to learn from your children before you give advice. You’d be surprised how much they already know.

3. Empower them to make their own decisions the right way, not with the “right” outcome in mind. Give your kids credit for their own ideas and ways of doing things. Respect their agency and autonomy. Don’t be too quick to imply flaws and gaps or infantilism as a parent. Be a friend first — before you preach. The right process ensures a good outcome.

Empower them to find their own voice, in their own way. What really matters is that they fulfill their own potential, not your expectations. Your only ask is that your child does this efficiently, effectively — and safely.

4. Get outside help. Millennials are big on asking their social networks for recommendations and advice. And yet, that supposedly free advice is often quite expensive. For starters, insist that they find a good doctor, lawyer, rabbi, accountant or coach to call on. If you look well, you might encounter someone who is many of these things all in one.

Two-way accountability is scarce to non-existent between parents and their adult children. Thus, others have to get involved.

5. Condition your support on skin in the game and specifics. Be transparent and to the point. Treat them like adults, capable of making their own choices. Offer to match or supplement their investment in coaching, a business or other meaningful growth experience to move forward their career, business, education, relationship or whatever else they need. Be careful to let them choose their accountability partner themselves — the right dynamic can’t be forced. Demand updates, specifics, equity and a concrete ROI.


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