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Time for 'helicopter parents' to retire

Posted By Ellen Ratner On 07/15/2012 @ 2:34 pm In Commentary | No Comments

I spent some time with my brother-in-law, Chip Espinoza, yesterday. He is an expert on the millennial generation and teaches boomers how to get the younger generation to be productive in a work environment. Millennials are the kids who first came of age in 2000. The oldest are now moving into their ’30s, marrying and raising kids. Many of them have members of the boomer generation for parents, although some of the younger ones have generation X’ers for parents.

Those of us in the boomer generation need to take some responsibility for this generation. Most of the boomers grew up post-World War II, and we wanted to make sure this generation could get ahead and have an easier time in the world. Boomers are defined as beginning in 1946-1948, depending on whose definition you use.

Where did our generation screw up? Was it what we bought the kids? Was it our constant need to get our progeny ahead? Or, was it the “helicopter” phenomena? There is a lot of debate as to what has caused our complete divide between the boomers and the millennials, but one thing is certain: Helicopter parents don’t help.

Having an internship program at Talk Radio News Service has given me a clear bird’s eye view of the problems the millennial have had. If I were to single out one major cause of the problems they experience, it is helicopter parents.

Helicopter parents are the ones who hover constantly around their children. Like the famous story of the kid who makes it “easier” for the future butterfly by cutting the casing of the caterpillar (and there by killing it), these parents hover so closely to their kids that they cut off the ability of kids to falter and learn by their mistakes.

I had a parent of an intern call me and ask me for the schedule of what her almost adult child would be doing on a daily biases. In shock, I called the parent and told them to stop being a “helicopter parent” and have the kid ask me if the kid was interested. Recently I learned of two parents of a medical student come to the student’s apartment and move in during exam time to cook and clean and hover. This student was no recent college graduate; this student has a master’s degree!

It is true that the millennial generation is the first generation in human history that has not needed to go to the older generation for information. Yes, the boomers and the older generation X’ers had libraries, but if we wanted information Saturday night we would have to wait till Monday to get it, or we would need to ask our parents. The millennials have no such wait. When they want information, it is instant. They do not need us.

The boomers, however, need to be needed. We are not going to be exiled to the proverbial ice flow. The way we have coped with an entire generation’s lack of need for us is to become the cutter of the caterpillar casing. We have made sure that we are not useless by becoming the hoverers.

Millennials have moved home in record numbers. Having a world economy has reduced manufacturing in the U.S. and has made us less of a producer than a service economy. Families in the ’50s and ’60s were able to make it on one income. Now they need two incomes, and the children move home because they can’t find jobs or can’t make it on their incomes or miss the good life. Often it is some combination of the three.

Boomers complain about not being free or never experiencing the empty nest, but we must secretly love it that we are still useful. The way we cope is to not only let the millennial have a room at home but we don’t let them grow up and cope on their own.

If we are going continue to be strong country, if we are going help the generations below us move on, we are going to have to let go and not circle above. It means letting the kids make mistakes and finding our usefulness in other ways. It will be a hard task for the boomers and older generation X’ers. It might even be harder for the information generation, which has never had to falter, but it will make a stronger country. It is time for the helicopters to retire.


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