Helicopter Parents: Is Hovering Harmful to Career Goals?

The words Millennial Generation and Helicopter Parents have been used conjointly and it is understood that many emerging adults have a very close relationship with their parents. Dr. Paul Redmond has even categorized the helicopter parent into 5 different types.  Redmond explains the difference between the Agent, Banker, White Knight, Bodyguard, and Black Hawk helicopter parent.  To read more about these types that Redmond developed, check out this BBC News article entitled The curse of the meddling parent.

The next question is, “Is parental hovering harmful to career goals?” I recently had the pleasure to hear Lesa Rae Vartanian, Ph.D., IPFW professor, present on this topic and discuss her theory that helicopter parenting has a negative effect on developmental tasks in adolescence. Two of the tasks that were discussed and believed to be highly affected are the abilities to envision a future (setting and maintaining goals) and improve interpersonal skills (conflict negotiation/management).

Envisioning Your Future

The affect Helicopter Parenting has on the ability for emerging adults to set goals has not been empirically measured to this date.  It is suggested that since millennial students had their schedules set and organized for them from day one then they, in turn, do not know how to arrange their own schedules and set goals for the future.  They tend to be so present-focused and have been told what to do when, that when it comes time to make decisions for themselves they don’t know how.  If you find yourself being very present-focused, such as concentrating on the current task at hand but not thinking about how that can affect your future or even what you want your future to look like, then you may need to seek out assistance from an objective perspective (Career Counselor, Advisor, Teacher, Mentor, etc.).

When considering your future, setting goals is an integral part to success. There are three types of goals that everyone should be able to set and work towards.

  • Short-term goals: Things to accomplish between now and the next month(s).
  • Intermediate-goals: Things to accomplish between now and the next year.
  • Long-term goals: Things to accomplish between now and the next 5-10 years.

When you set these goals, you also have to make them SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. For example, a bad goal would be Get a job.   A SMART goal would be Send out 10 resumes per week to apply for marketing positions.  The SMART goal is a step that needs to happen to attain the job.  By setting a smaller and more attainable goal, you can be more successful and feel more encouraged to continue.

What happens when you fail to attain a goal? It’s okay; this happens to everyone.  The key to regaining success, when this happens, is how you respond to it.  Do you wallow in the failure, or do you reevaluate the goal and rewrite it so it’s more attainable?  If you reevaluate and rewrite the goal, then you’re proving to yourself that you are resilient and can problem solve.

Interpersonal Skills

Helicopter Parenting can also have a negative effect on an emerging adult’s interpersonal skills. Can someone know how to affectively handle conflict if he/she has never had to “fight” for themselves?  What happens when that same child receives his/her first criticism from a professor or a boss?  Will the White Knight or Agent parent come to the rescue and negotiate a resolution?  What does this teach the emerging adult, and how does this affect the professors’/boss’ perception of the student/employee?

Conflict negotiation is a critical skill in which every adult will come into contact. We experience conflict in every relationship and need to know how to handle each type.  Resolving a conflict with a boyfriend/girlfriend is different than with a co-worker, a professor, or a boss.  What is your first reaction to a problem you have with another person?  Do you immediately complain to someone else or do you “take a step back” and evaluate how to properly handle the situation yourself?  If you consider how to address the situation yourself in a professional and calm manner, then you will gain the respect of the other person and hopefully establish a positive resolution.  The most important thing to remember when addressing conflict is that you ONLY have control over yourself, your reactions, and your feelings. If you believe that conflict negotiation means making the other person do what you want him/her to do, then you will not have a successful negotiation.

“I took her to kindergarten, and now I’m here for her first day of work,” is an actual quote from an article in Fortune magazine entitled “Manage” Us? Puh-leeze… This article touches on recruiting and retaining millennials in the workforce.  Even though this article discusses how the corporate world has adjusted to the new generation of workers, they still expect to hire people with professionalism and solid work ethics. They will also expect any employee to communicate their professional goals effectively and have the skills to accomplish the goals, not just for themselves but for the company too.

Answering the Question

Is parental hovering harmful to career goals? Yes, if the type of hovering doesn’t allow for individual growth and development.  People learn from making mistakes just as much, if not more, as we learn from our successes.  If you’re on the receiving end of parental hovering, then take advantage of every opportunity to make your own decisions, resolve your own conflicts, and set your own goals.  Even if things don’t turn out the way you planned it, you will have learned more about yourself and others just by taking these initial steps.  It will get easier with more exposure and experience… I promise.


Karen is a Career Counselor and Internship Coordinator at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). At IPFW she assists students in finding internships, coordinates and assists with campus-wide events, teaches a Career Planning course, and meets with students individually to assist them with all aspects of career development. She has a Bachelor of Science in Education with a major in Recreation and Tourism and a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling from Bowling Green State University.

Related posts:

  1. Set Your Branding Goals for the New School Year
  2. You Can’t Buy Your Goals
  3. Managing Your Job Search & Your Parents

One Response to “Helicopter Parents: Is Hovering Harmful to Career Goals?”

  1. Although the influence of parents and a peer group must be considered, it must not come in the way of making the right career choice. Self assessment is the best way to deal with such situations.

    To know more about making the right career choice and about assessment tests,visit us at

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