Recent Headlines Shine A Spotlight On A Growing Trend

Recent news reports have been full of coverage concerning a major college cheating scandal.

Unlike many we’ve seen in the past, this was not about student conduct, but unethical overreach by parents.

And it begs the question, how much should we be doing to help our adult children succeed?

The nation was shocked – and outraged – to learn this week that multiple celebrities and wealthy entrepreneurs had been paying out millions of dollars to ensure their children admittance to some of the most elite colleges in the nation.

While this may be an isolated incident run by a corrupt ringleader seeking profit, it has sparked conversation about a broader issue, one that has become a pattern with many parents of young adult children.

How far do we go to ensure our grown children succeed?   And should we be doing so much to help them instead of fostering their independence?

A generation or two ago, it was common for parents to “cut the apron strings” not long after high school.

Of course, parents have helped their kids get through college, get them started in their first apartments, and offer emotional support and encouragement in every generation.

But we are now more involved in the daily lives of our adult children than ever before in history.  And it’s not always a positive thing.

We’re not just helping them financially until they get on their feet, either.

A recent poll by the Morning Consult group for the New York Times asked parents of adult children 18-24 the types of things they help with on a daily basis.

A whopping 76 percent of parents said they remind their adult children about bills, or work and school deadlines.

That same percentage said they make appointments for their grown children, including doctor’s appointments.

Now more than ever, we are in contact with our adult children multiple times a day, even if they no longer live at home.  We offer advice – especially romantic advice – we help them study for college tests, and more.

Some of us even secure jobs for our adult children, contact their friends and romantic partners if they have an argument, and – gasp – will lobby employers to give our adult kids a raise.

More than 10 percent of respondents said they actually help do their college student’s homework and would call their “child’s” boss or professor if they had an issue at work or school.

And nearly 15 percent of us are paying more than $500 a month to help financially support an adult child.

So, how has this happened?  Why have we been enabling our children and denying them accountability, responsibility, and a sense of accomplishment?

Well, for starters, this is the first generation who cannot expect to exceed their parents’ success and financial security.

Job markets are changing, requiring more and more expertise and advanced training – something most young people cannot afford without financial help.

Housing prices have skyrocketed.  Even a one-bedroom apartment can cost more than a young adult makes in a month at an entry-level job.

This generation’s adults have more student loan debt than ever before recorded – and that’s with parental help.

The high costs of living in many areas of the country are keeping kids home longer, and we seem to continue to do everything we do for them when they were small.  Laundry, meals, rides, and of course, financial support.

According to a Consumer Expenditure Survey reported on by the New York Times, parents used to spend the most amount of money on children in high school – for example, sports and activities, their first car, senior trips, and graduation.

Now, other than children under six, we are spending more on them than any other time during their childhood once our kids are past 18 and into their mid-20s.

And this generation of parents is even helping to raise grandchildren in their homes because of the out-of-reach costs of housing and childcare for young parents.

While the recent college cheating scandal is an extreme example, we may be unfairly holding our adult kids back, even while we are helping to keep them on their feet.

“When one is hand-held through life, they don’t develop a sense of self-efficacy and life skills,” said author Julie Lythcott-Haims, as reported by the New York Times.

“This sense among parents that I’ve got to get my kid to the right future is overlooking the fact that your kid has to get themselves there.”

There’s even a new name for this trend — “emerging adulthood.”

Today’s young adults are having a much harder time making it on their own after high school or college, and so experts are calling it a transitional time where “true” adulthood doesn’t start until the kids are married or secure in a good-paying job.

Cultural changes are at play, as well.

The digital age keeps all of us in constant communication, fostering close relationships.  Young adults are waiting longer to get married and start families of their own.

Now, of course, it’s not all a bad thing.

Families should support each other, and adult children are now much more likely to care for their parents as they age.

But adult children still need to learn to make it on their own – and as much as we want to keep them close and needing us forever, it does not benefit them.

The key is finding a good balance – offering support and occasional financial help, especially while they are still in school – but also holding them accountable for working hard to make it on their own, even if it means taking multiple jobs.

Parents are always there for their kids, but each family must come to an agreement that is mutually beneficial once they hit adulthood.

We can offer advice, but not interference.  We can help, but not enable.

Sometimes tough love is the best, and it will leave our kids – and the future of our nation – in much better shape.

Do you have adult children who you still frequently help?  How do you help balance supporting them while encouraging independence?  Leave us your thoughts.

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