Taylor Grissom began working at 16 as a lifeguard and has worked all the way through college.
"I know I am better when I am busy, so I have always worked," says Grissom. "Through those experiences, I have learned a lot about getting along with co-workers, the general public and what is acceptable behavior in the workplace. When I graduated from college, I realized I had learned a lot about my area of study, but college didn't teach me about the real working world."
In just over a month, many college graduates will be joining Grissom in the workforce, some for the first time. The transition can be a real shocker as they face their new reality of eight-hour days, specific start times, no more spring breaks and a limited amount of time for lunch. Plus, some workplaces expect employees to work at a rigorous pace that is foreign to many college students.
In the adjustment phase, young adults may complain to their parents about workplace practices, demanding bosses, irritating co-workers and deadlines, just to name a few issues. This is nothing new, for sure. Anybody who has held a job can probably relate, but here's where things get interesting. In an effort to be helpful, many parents jump right in to deal with the issue at hand. In fact, you might be surprised at just how many parents are quick to take the reins and deal with the issue themselves.
In a recent survey of parents of children ages 18-28 conducted by Morning Consult, 11 percent of the parents surveyed said they would contact an employer if their child was having issues at work. Of the parents surveyed, the results also showed that:
» 76 percent reminded their adult children of deadlines they need to meet, including for schoolwork.
» 74 percent made appointments for them, including doctor's appointments.
» 42 percent offered them advice on relationships and romantic life.
» 16 percent helped write all or part of a job or internship application.
» 15 percent told them which career to pursue.
» 14 percent helped them get jobs or internships through professional network.
» 14 percent gave more than $500 per month for rent or daily expenses.
With the possible exception of giving romantic advice, none of these behaviors on the part of the parent are helpful in preparing a young adult for the real world.
Instead of jumping in to rescue them, it would be helpful to assist them in being prepared to deal with real-life work situations. When they encounter a difficult professor, process with them potential ways to approach the professor and have a conversation. Teach them how to make their own doctor's appointments. If they have internship possibilities, rehearse with them how to make the initial phone call or introduction, and talk with them about potential interview questions.
If they believe they are being treated unfairly or inappropriately at work, get a good understanding of what is happening. Attempt to walk through the situation with them, but realize the situation is not yours to handle. Ask them what they think they need to do besides quit, which sometimes ends up being an option if nothing else works, and then help them figure out an action plan they can execute by discussing the pros and cons of all viable options.
If you don't think you have the knowledge or skill set required to help them decide how to move forward, connect them with someone you believe has the knowledge to do so. Avoid the temptation to make the call yourself.
For many parents, it is painful to watch your young adult deal with difficult and sometimes very complicated circumstances, especially if they are a hard worker and what they are walking through seems unjust. However, it is not healthy or helpful to jump into circumstances they need to learn how to handle themselves. Life is for sure not fair, and this will likely not be the last time they have to navigate dealing with a difficult situation.
"When it came to my employment, my parents were supportive but refused to get in the middle of situations I needed to learn how to handle," Grissom says. "They were good listeners, were willing to think through situations with me and told me they were confident I had the tools to take next steps, which was a huge confidence booster for me. They believed in me. That in and of itself has helped me grow and learn how to stand on my own two feet."
Whether your adult child is still in college or in the workforce, writing papers for them, calling them to make sure they are awake, reminding them of deadlines or interfering at work does not prepare your child for the reality of living an independent, productive life. Doing these things will make them more dependent on you and less prepared for dealing with what life hands them on their own.
Julie M. Baumgardner is president and CEO of family advocacy nonprofit First Things First. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.