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What's a Parent to Do? Helping Your Young Adult with Career Decisions

"I just want them to be happy." We hear this refrain from parents regularly. Parents who have recent college graduates or twenty-something children often are frustrated as they watch them struggle to find their way through the job market maze. In other cases, the newly-labeled "helicopter parent" gears up and hovers too closely, coaching every move and even making some moves that go beyond appropriate boundaries, like calling a potential employer.

What can parents do to support and help their young adult, while building the young person's independence, responsibility and self-reliance?

Parents who take a leadership role in their family can take the same actions they would take as leaders in the workplace.


1. Have a vision
A vision of "I just want them to be happy," is pretty vague. Parents who give some thought to defining what they mean more specifically can engage in a discussion with their children to define what it means for them.

2. Guide and encourage necessary actions
Young adults who hear parents say, "Go find a job," often are overwhelmed with a goal this broad. They have little idea where to even begin, so they grab the first thing that comes along. Working with them to identify what they should be seeking, the steps and resources, timelines needed to succeed, and putting together a written plan can yield productive results. A plan with accountabilities is important.

3. Align goals, expectations and resources
Career planning is a bit like going on vacation: when you know the destination (career goal) and know the resources available, you know better how to prepare and what to pack. Discuss your goals, expectations and the resources you will commit to the process

4. Are clear about time and cost constraints
If an adult child is living at home while trying to get their life and work on track, they may be accustomed to a different lifestyle. Many parents find that a frank discussion about expected behavior and contributions to the household is important. Negotiate hours and basic lifestyle. Contributions may include payments from a part-time job toward room and board expenses or regular time spent on household maintenance chores.

5. Communicate frequently
A young adult child who appears to be unmotivated about finding a career direction or full-time job can be highly frustrating to a parent. Setting the expectation that you will be kept informed about the job search and outcomes is part of the accountability. Following these guidelines helps young adults honor their commitments by creating some predictability.

© Copyright 2008, Career Vision. Article may be reprinted with permission.

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