Wednesday, Aug 16, 2017
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Opinion

Kids' growth put on hold - and speed dial

We're fast approaching the season of school commencement ceremonies, although my reading lately tells me parents are the ones who'll do much of the commencing - "helping" their "children" adjust to young "adult" lives.

Quoting Claire Raines, author of Generations at Work, HR magazine reports that college students now "call their parents on the cell phone three to five times per day."

A human-resources trade journal, HR devoted its May issue to this cover story: "The Tethered Generation," about the "millennial" generation's lifelong technology dependence and the "perpetual connection" to mom 'n' dad.

Get ready for a newly identified subset of helicopter parents: the "Blackhawks."

Patricia Somers, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, recently finished one of the first (and apparently only) studies of such uber-hoverers. "Several cultural shifts over the past 20 years may explain this change in parent behavior," the university Web site quotes her as saying. "First and perhaps most obvious are the technological advances that allow people to stay connected 24/7 .•.•. It's just extremely easy to cross the line between being involved in a child's life to being over-involved."

Her research shows that overly involved parenting isn't just a middle and upper-middle-class phenomenon; the behavior crosses all income levels, races, and ethnicities.

But if cell phones reassure parents by functioning as round-the-clock leashes, they also bring a risk of unintended consequences.

Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told HR that such technology robs an adolescent of "the experience of having only herself to count on [since] there's always a parent on speed dial."

Motivated by love, then, too many parents risk causing more harm than good. Our well-meaning "assistance" gives a new and unfortunate connotation to the term "adult children," as we corral the very people we're meant to set free.

As psychology professor Robert Epstein reminds us: "Parents' most important task is to help young people to become independent and autonomous [Otherwise] we stifle their development."

Mr. Epstein, a University of California at San Diego scholar, told HR how he once advised a new class to expect "hard work and sacrifice." Soon after, his department chairman was contacted by a student's father - a judge, who wrote a letter on judicial stationery - complaining that "his daughter was intimidated by my warning."

No wonder another researcher told HR that students now exhibit "learned helplessness," after figuring out "it's easier to use the parent as a surrogate than to think for yourself."

Naive people like me figure, "Well, these kids will be forced to grow up in the so-called real world." But the "real world," I'm learning, now adapts to them.

From the Christian Science Monitor this week: "Last year, Merrill Lynch invited parents of interns to tour their offices. Ernst & Young offers parent-information packs. Vanguard Group asks potential hires if they want news of offers shared with anyone (i.e., parents)."

It's no surprise when corporations, looking to hire bright-eyed grads, feel they must also court their prospects' ever-hovering parents.

We seem, after all, to have rewritten the job title of "parent" to read "life coach-slash-personal attendant."

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