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The 3 Different Kinds of Helicopter Parents

New research reveals distinctly different types of helicopter parents.

Key points

  • One study found that 32 percent of large companies have heard from their employees' parents at one point or another.
  • "Helicopter parents" interfere in their adult children's careers in many ways, from writing their child's resume to negotiating salary.
  • Too much involvement from parents can have harmful effects on an emerging adult's well-being.

I bet no one told your grandparents not to attend your parents' job interviews when they were 25. Hovering in the workplace wasn't a "thing" in past generations. But, in today's world, helicopter parents don't think twice about meddling in their college graduates' careers.

In fact, a survey conducted by Michigan State University found that 32 percent of large companies have heard from their employees' parents at one point or another. Whether it's a mother trying to convince a hiring manager that her son is a "real self-starter" or it's a father inquiring about health insurance benefits, helicopter parents leap at the opportunity to get involved.

Hyper-parenting can be a nightmare for human resource departments. And of course, too much involvement from parents has harmful effects on emerging adults' well-being.

Types of Helicopter Parents

Not all helicopter parents meddle to the same degree. A 2013 study published in Business Horizons identified three distinct types of helicopter parents who involve themselves in their adult child's workplace:

1. Reconnaissance Helicopter Parents

Reconnaissance helicopter parents get involved in their college graduate's job search or employment in unobtrusive ways. They may gather information about a company, create their child's resume, offer advice on interviewing, or quietly attend a career fair.

Reconnaissance helicopter parents are the most common type. And while they aren't as aggressive as other helicopter parents, they play a major role in their children's careers.

Researchers found that young adults consider their parents a critical source of career advice. Many of them stall on job offers until they can consult with their parents. And reconnaissance helicopter parents aren't shy about offering their two cents.

These helicopter parents may continue to offer advice after their child is hired by weighing in on what to wear or making suggestions about how to network. They may even help their children complete work assignments to meet deadlines—but for the most part, they refrain from making direct contact with employers.

2. Low-Altitude Helicopter Parents

Low-altitude helicopter parents use posturing or positioning tactics to assert themselves. They may submit a resume on their child's behalf or may even advocate for a child's promotion.

They don't just attend job fairs—they introduce themselves to recruiters. They often act like their child's agents by collecting information and putting in good words for their children.

Some parents are even more direct—they call managers to arrange interviews. They may even ask hiring managers to hire their children. Once a child is hired, they may contact supervisors to inquire about how their child is performing.

3. Guerrilla Warfare Helicopter Parents

These parents are most aggressive in their tactics. They may attend their child's job interview (or at least attempt to do so) or contact a hiring manager to negotiate the terms of the offer.

The authors of the study offered these examples of real-life guerrilla warfare helicopter parents:

One hiring manager said that when a candidate failed a drug test, a mother called the place of employment and tried to explain away the test results by saying her family took a lot of herbal supplements. She asked that the positive drug test be ignored so her child could be hired for the job.

Other hiring managers cited examples of parents calling to inquire about why their child was not hired or offered a better salary.

Another employer reported during a phone interview with a candidate, the mother joined the call to ask the recruiter about benefits offered by the company.

The authors discovered that fathers were most likely to be guerrilla warfare helicopter parents. They were more likely to be involved in salary negotiations and they were more likely to call to complain when a child received disciplinary action.

How to Give Up Your Hovering Practices

Helicopter parenting is about managing your anxiety—not doing what's best for your kids. Micromanaging, shielding kids from pain, and preventing them from making mistakes, however, is a bad idea—at any age. Studies clearly show kids raised by helicopter parents don't fare as well in life.

Failure, missed opportunities, and natural consequences are opportunities to build mental strength. So whether you're raising a 12-year-old or a 21-year-old, step aside. The ultimate goal of parenting should be to work yourself out of a job.

It's never too late to give up the bad habits that are robbing your children of mental strength.

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