Par­ent­ing doesn’t stop when kids are grown

The Buffalo News - - FRONT PAGE - By Kevin Quealy and Claire Cain Miller

More moms and dads say they’re in­volved in their adult chil­dren’s daily lives.

Brib­ing SAT proc­tors. Fab­ri­cat­ing stu­dents’ ath­letic cre­den­tials. Pay­ing off col­lege of­fi­cials. The ac­tions that some wealthy par­ents were charged with Tues­day – to se­cure their chil­dren a spot at elite col­leges – are il­le­gal and scan­dalous. But they’re part of a broader pat­tern, al­beit on the ex­treme end of the con­tin­uum: par­ents’ will­ing­ness to do any­thing it takes to help their grown chil­dren suc­ceed.

As col­lege has be­come more com­pet­i­tive and young adults’ eco­nomic prospects less as­sured, par­ents have be­gun spend­ing much more time and money on their chil­dren – in­clud­ing well after they turn 18. Mod­ern par­ent­ing typ­i­cally re­mains hands-on, and gets more ex­pen­sive, when chil­dren be­come young adults, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey by Morn-

ing Con­sult for the New York Times.

A sig­nif­i­cant share of par­ents, across in­come lev­els, say they’re in­volved in their adult chil­dren’s daily lives. That in­cludes mak­ing doc­tor’s ap­point­ments, re­mind­ing them of school and other dead­lines, and of­fer­ing ad­vice on ro­man­tic life, found the sur­vey, which was of a na­tion­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of 1,508 peo­ple ages 18 to 28 and 1,136 par­ents of peo­ple that age. More than half of par­ents give their adult chil­dren some form of monthly fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance.

Col­leges now rou­tinely have of­fices of par­ent re­la­tions. Com­pa­nies in­clud­ing LinkedIn, Ama­zon and Google have hosted bring-your-par­ents-towork days. Par­ents have ap­plied to jobs on be­half of their chil­dren, lob­bied their em­ploy­ers for a raise, and at­tended job in­ter­views with them. They have called their chil­dren’s room­mates to re­solve dis­agree­ments or to check on their chil­dren’s where­abouts.

For cer­tain mem­bers of the su­per­rich, the tac­tics have been ex­tra­or­di­nary – no­body would equate ac­cu­sa­tions of bribery with help­ing a col­lege-aged child with home­work or a job ap­pli­ca­tion. The fac­tors driv­ing most par­ents, re­searchers say, are widen­ing in­equal­ity, the grow­ing im­por­tance of a col­lege de­gree, and the fact that for the first time, chil­dren of this gen­er­a­tion are as likely as not to be less pros­per­ous than their par­ents.

“It’s the same thing but on a much dif­fer­ent level,” said Laura Hamil­ton, au­thor of “Par­ent­ing to a De­gree: How Fam­ily Mat­ters for Col­lege and Be­yond” and a so­ci­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Merced. “It’s re­ally hard for par­ents to un­der­stand why you wouldn’t do any­thing you could do to as­sist your chil­dren. If you have the in­flu­ence, the con­nec­tions and the money, it’s not sur­pris­ing to me that the par­ents made these choices.”

Even more typ­i­cal parental in­volve­ment can back­fire, many ex­perts say, by leav­ing young adults ill-pre­pared for in­de­pen­dent adult life, and un­able to suc­ceed at the schools and jobs their par­ents helped them get to.

“When one is hand-held through life, they don’t de­velop a sense of self-ef­fi­cacy and life skills,” said Julie Lyth­cot­tHaims, au­thor of “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Over­par­ent­ing Trap and Pre­pare Your Kid for Suc­cess” and a for­mer dean of fresh­men at Stan­ford. “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.”

It’s a con­tin­u­a­tion of the kind of in­ten­sive par­ent­ing that has be­come the norm in the United States. To­day’s par­ents, espe­cially moth­ers, are spend­ing more time and money on their chil­dren than any pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion – on things like les­sons, tu­tors and test prep. Many par­ents’ anx­i­ety only in­ten­si­fies after 18, when chil­dren start the ed­u­ca­tion and jobs they’ve been pre­par­ing for.

“Pro­fes­sional he­li­copter par­ents are re­ally fo­cused on us­ing ed­u­ca­tion to get their chil­dren into a pro­fes­sional ca­reer,” Hamil­ton said. “Their goal is ba­si­cally to pre­vent their chil­dren from ever mak­ing a mis­take.”

This kind of be­hav­ior is most preva­lent among priv­i­leged par­ents, those with col­le­giate ex­pe­ri­ence and wealth. In places with the big­gest gaps be­tween the rich and the poor, rich par­ents spend an even larger share of their in­comes on their chil­dren, a re­cent pa­per found. The bribery scan­dal shows how far some par­ents will go – in one ex­am­ple, par­ents were ac­cused of pay­ing $1.2 mil­lion to help get their child into an Ivy League col­lege.

More com­monly, fi­nan­cial help comes in the form of tu­ition or rent pay­ments. Par­ents used to spend the most money on their chil­dren dur­ing high school, ac­cord­ing to Con­sumer Ex­pen­di­ture Sur­vey data an­a­lyzed by so­ci­ol­o­gists Sabino Korn­rich and Frank Fursten­berg. But now they spend the most be­fore age 6 and after age 18 and into chil­dren’s 20s.

The in­creases in later years are be­cause so many more chil­dren are go­ing to col­lege, which has be­come much more ex­pen­sive, Korn­rich said. Also, about a third of chil­dren this age still live at home. In the new sur­vey by Morn­ing Con­sult and the Times, about two-thirds of those who lived with their par­ents said it was be­cause they could not af­ford to live on their own or were still in school.

One in 3 par­ents said they gave their 18-and-over chil­dren $100 or more a month, and 44 per­cent of those with chil­dren in col­lege made tu­ition or loan pay­ments for them. When asked at what age peo­ple should be fi­nan­cially in­de­pen­dent from their par­ents, the largest share of young peo­ple said 25 to 28.

Re­cent re­search shows that even par­ents who can’t af­ford to give their grown chil­dren money in­creas­ingly pro­vide them with sig­nif­i­cant sup­port of other kinds. In the sur­vey, wealth­ier par­ents were more likely to re­port giv­ing their chil­dren money than less af­flu­ent ones were, but many non­fi­nan­cial mea­sures of parental sup­port re­mained con­sis­tent across in­come and ed­u­ca­tion lev­els.

For ex­am­ple, three-quar­ters of par­ents with chil­dren ages 18 to 28 said they had re­minded their chil­dren of school and other dead­lines they needed to meet – whether the par­ents re­ported a low or high in­come. Four in 10 par­ents, across in­come and ed­u­ca­tion lev­els, said they of­fered ro­man­tic ad­vice to their chil­dren.

Par­ents gave their chil­dren less money, pro­fes­sional ad­vice and job ap­pli­ca­tion help as they got older. Ro­man­tic ad­vice, how­ever, did not ta­per off.

Par­ents re­ported a more en­gaged re­la­tion­ship with their grown chil­dren than they once had with their own par­ents. They said they spent more time with their chil­dren, com­mu­ni­cated with them more of­ten and gave more ad­vice than their par­ents had when they were the same age. Eight in 10 said they were “al­ways” or “of­ten” in text mes­sage com­mu­ni­ca­tion with their adult chil­dren.

This pe­riod of life has be­come so es­tab­lished that re­searchers have given it a name: emerg­ing adult­hood. In some ways, it has be­come harder to be an adult. Wages have stag­nated, while the cost of col­lege, homes, health care and child care have climbed. This gen­er­a­tion has record stu­dent loan debt and low home­own­er­ship rates.

“There’s no room for risk,” Hamil­ton said. “It’s not like in 1970 when you could screw around a lit­tle be­cause every ex­tra year of col­lege didn’t cost you an arm and a leg and not grad­u­at­ing wasn’t in­cred­i­bly risky.”

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