How Wealthy Parents Are Cheating Their Kids

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My adult kids.

Did you work part-time when you were in high school? We all did when I was growing up. My brother bagged groceries at Safeway. I worked after school and summers in my dad’s dental office. My friends picked strawberries, worked for their family businesses or at fast food places. We all worked.

Now, in contrast, how many of your children’s friends have jobs — especially if they come from families who aren’t worried about money? In an article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Tim Grant wrote about the fact kids aren’t working because of sports, SAT prep classes, homework and other activities and how it’s affecting kids entering adulthood.

From helicopters to bulldozers, wealthy parents clear their children’s path

Many of the high net worth clients that Pittsburgh wealth manager Matt Helfrich has worked with over the years can trace their strong work ethics back to summer jobs and after school work they did in high school and college.

Yet the opposite may be true for their own children.

Mr. Helfrich said that over the last decade of advising rich clients on their financial affairs, he has come to recognize a definite trend: their school-age children don’t work. 

“More and more, we are seeing kids not doing high school jobs,” said Mr. Helfrich, president of Bridgeville-based Waldron Private Wealth, which manages $2.4 billion in assets for 220 clients.

Instead of punching a time clock in their free time, he said most — if not all — of his clients’ children are preoccupied with sports, test preparation, volunteer assignments or high school study abroad programs.

Not that those activities don’t have merit. 

But they don’t provide young people with life lessons about the value of a dollar or skills that come with budgeting their own hard-earned money. Mr. Helfrich said he believes when children don’t take any responsibility for their own financial outcomes, it gives way to a phenomenon called the “bulldozer parent.”

“Bulldozer parents flatten all obstacles in their child’s way,” he said, explaining that bulldozer parents keep their wallets ready to foot the bill for major purchases like college, cars and housing so that their children need not worry.

By directing these bills away from their children, parents are robbing them of the opportunity to learn about budgeting, making financial choices and building their own credit.

“We’ve had adult children  of our clients try to get a mortgage or even a credit card, and they can’t get one because they’ve never had credit in their name before,” Mr. Helfrich said.

I am proud to say my kids worked in school. My son tutored, he worked as a swim coach and he was paid to design and maintain a website. In middle school, he was an assistant lifeguard and would be sweeping the pool or washing down the deck. My daughter was swimming all the time and didn’t have time for work outside of coaching and swim clinics. But her swimming turned into a job that paid for her college education and she now has a career in the swim industry.

In college, my son worked retail, maybe more hours than he should have. My daughter worked as a lifeguard, swim coach and swim camp counselor. I never even thought it was odd that they would work while at school. After all, that’s what we all did back in the day. I would find it strange if they weren’t working.

“About once or twice a year I will meet with a family who has the issue of an adult child who has become ‘infantilized,’” he said. “And over two decades, that’s a lot.”

“This approach to parenting, at best, fosters learned helplessness,” he said. “Typically, it fosters entitlement. And at worse, the child becomes so dysfunctional that they depend on and drain everyone they know.

“They try to turn everybody into their parents and expect everyone to behave like that. That’s not life.”

In worst-case scenarios, Mr. Chaney said he has seen children grow up with parents doting on them, then when the parents died, the child’s life spiraled out of control to the point of draining their trust fund.

The college years, he said, can be a defining period. Children from wealthy families often don’t need to work and get a monthly stipend.

The article goes on to give good advice to parents on how to help them build credit, make financial decisions and learn budgeting. You can read the parent tips and more of the article here.

What is your experience with kids working in high school and college?

When Mom goes on a job interview — along with her kid

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Family time in the backyard pool.

I read articles from time to time where parents do off the wall things like call an employer to go over benefits for their grown child who happens to be a doctor. Or, accompanies their adult child to a job interview. I’ve written about that here.

In Bringing Mom on a job interview? When bulldozer parenting goes too far by Svetlana Shkolnikova for the North Jersey RecordI learned that it’s not new and it’s rare for parents to get so over-involved.

Here’s an excerpt:

This story is the fourth in a series on the disruptive — and potentially damaging — impact of bulldozer parenting. The series also covers the K-12 years, high school coaches, and the college experience.

In 2001, a graphic designer in New Jersey refused to sign a non-compete agreement required by her employer.

The woman’s father, an attorney, had advised her not to and the decision cost her the job. Years of litigation followed, with the state Supreme Court ultimately ruling that the company had justly fired her.

The incident is a worst-case scenario of what can happen when parents meddle in their adult children’s careers, said John Sarno, president of the nonprofit Employers Association of New Jersey.

Almost 20 years later, parents are asserting themselves to an even greater degree by sitting in on job interviews, filling in job applications, badgering employers to give their children raises and promotions, and — in at least one case — bringing a cake to a child’s potential employer, according to a survey by a subsidiary of Robert Half, a global human resource consulting firm.

“Sadly, it’s not a new phenomenon,” said Dora Onyschak, the New Jersey metro market manager for Robert Half. “Bulldozer parents and helicopter parents are kind of similar in that really they just want what’s best for their kid so they want to try and help them to be as successful as possible. But that can sometimes blind them to the fact that maybe they’re being too involved or their involvement can be inappropriate or certainly unprofessional when looking for a job.”

The article explains and quotes Sarno as saying that the competition to get into good colleges promoted the wild behaviors in parents along with the increased diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. We parents tend to do too much for our kids to ensure their success and don’t know how or when to stop.

“It’s really about a parent who has had this identity, this role as the advocate through the public school, often through college, and they can’t give up the role when the young adult starts their career,” Sarno said. “I really think it’s about parents that can’t let go.”

Part of that reluctance stems from the 2008 financial crisis and changing social attitudes that have delayed typical markers of adulthood such as marriage and home ownership, said Jacob Goldsmith, director of the emerging adulthood program at Northwestern University’s Family Institute. Studies show that unlike more prosperous previous generations, half of children born since 1980 will not out-earn their parents.

“It really scares parents,” Goldsmith said. “I think there are a lot of parents looking around and realizing that their kids are not going to make the same money that they did, that their kids are not reaching the milestones they did at the same time and they don’t know what to make of that and they really want to be helpful, so they jump in.”

Fourteen percent of U.S. adults surveyed this year by Morning Consult for The New York Times said they had pulled strings in their professional networks to secure a job for their 18- to 28-year-old child. About 11% of respondents said they would contact their adult child’s employer if the child had an issue at work. Another 16% said they had written all or part of a job or internship application.

Both Goldsmith and Sarno said parental interference in work matters is rare and not unique to millennials, who have been unfairly maligned by some as lazy or entitled.

Although it’s rare for parents to go to job interviews with their kids, they do a lot of other less noticed tasks for their adult kids, like finding jobs, filling out job applications, etc. The therapists believe these kids have never failed and won’t be prepared to have a tough conversation at work with their boss. Or, they won’t have confidence to know they are capable to make decisions or do their jobs. They enter the workforce without a skill set to cope.

Our job is supposed to be getting our kids ready for the real world. Fortunately my kids learned a lot about failure, picking themselves up and trying again from swimming. I believe youth sports can teach these life lessons to our kids, if we get out of the way and let them learn. Also, failing a test, a class or getting a bad grade on a paper isn’t the end of the world — especially before college when the costs aren’t so high. If they forget their swim bag, their project, their homework, allow them to suffer the consequences. It won’t change their chances for success in the future — I assure you. Plus, they might learn some toughening up and problem solving skills that will help them.

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Back in the day with my baby girl.

What are your thoughts about parents who go on job interviews with their kids. Have you ever seen that at work? Or, know a friend who has done that?