black-spider-monkey.jpg“They think I’m going to grad school,” my intern says about her parents.

“Are you?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” she replies.

This is the conversation I had with my intern Katherine this morning. She just finished finals and, if she passes all her tests, will be a college senior next year.

Turns out, once every few weeks her parents ask her about what she plans for her future. They ask her about going to graduate school, about the steps she’s taking now to get her on the right career road, etc., etc.

Her common response is something like, “I’ll figure it out later.”

I’m listening to this closely because I have two young kids. Even though they’re 5 and 8, I’m wondering already how I will be when they’re at that critical crossroads, just a few steps from the real work world.

Obviously, Katherine doesn’t like her parents haranguing. She talks about them, when it comes to this issue, as if they were a two-headed monkey on her back constantly saying, “What’s your plan? What’s your plan?”

I had her call her mother Liz this morning to ask why they feel compelled to do this.

On why she pesters Katherine: “Hoping that you’ll take the ball and run with it.”

Liz feels compelled to keep on top of her daughter, “Because the stakes are much higher and you need to look at things much earlier in your life now.” As early as high school, she believes. “There are lots of opportunities you can take advantage of but you have to plan for them and get to them earlier. You have to involve them otherwise they won’t know how to make decisions.”

This all seems to make sense for us parents today. We are so much more involved in our kids lives than previous generations.

But as college kids take their finals, or prepare for graduation, it might be a good time to ask ourselves if parental badgering is helpful, or do we need to climb down from our kids’ backs already?

I asked Nicholas Aretakis, author of “No More Ramen: The 20-Something’s Real World Survival Guide”, what his take was and he shared this personal story from when he was in his first semester of college more than 25 years ago:

“I had my weekly call home, advising my parents of my struggles. They weren’t the most sophisticated or well educated (my Dad quit high school to join his 5 elder brothers in WWII, and saw serious combat action in Iwo Jima), but they said something that would have a resounding impact on my life. ‘Do the best that you can, we are proud of you regardless.’ After that conversation, I realized that the only pressures that I had to worry about were the pressures that I placed upon myself. The next semester I made the Dean’s List, and I graduated from Hobart College Cum Laude a year early, which enabled me to get into Columbia University, which opened many doors that contributed to my success over the years.”

That said, he doesn’t think parents should just cut the cord on college kids.

Here’s some advice he offers on helping, but not monkey-on-your-back type helping. It’s long but I thought parents would appreciate me taking up as much cyber space as possible for this:

1. Establish strong and honest communications with your children. Don’t be dictatorial, be supportive. Share pertinent stories of others and experience. If they find you helpful, they will come to you for help and accept some of the tutelage you can provide
o Ask your child, “What do you want to do?” This is much better than saying, “You need to find a job”.
o Help them find their way, but don’t be pushy, and don’t pressure them
o Determine if the option of them moving back home is open, and agree on some timelines and guidelines (if they move back into the nest)
o Be an open minded “sound-board” for you child, even if some of the initial ideas may not be either practical or wise
2. Become a “mentor” for your children, and encourage them to find others that will be qualified- professors, counselors, relatives, friends of the family, bosses or colleagues, etc.
o Mentorship can help you uncover a career direction or accelerate pursuits
3. Gain an understanding of what special talents or skills your children possess, and whether there is any potential career path that could be pursued
o Do they have any idea on what products or services they would like to design, develop, market or sell?
4. Encourage children to utilize the Career Services provided at their college
o Employers come to schools looking for particular skills, education or experience
o As a student or alumni, you can gain free access to postings made available by national services (e.g. MonsterTRAK, NACElink)
5. Get an idea on whether they have any career aspirations. Encourage spending time with individuals in similar fields, research prospective employers (management, direct supervisor, peers, culture)
o Spend few hours or a day “on the job”, getting an idea of the nuances of the job, gaining a flavor of whether you are cut out for this path
o now offers short videos on prospective employers and specific positions, encourage your child to navigate and get a glimpse of some potential job options
o Encourage internships (paid or unpaid)- accomplishing several key factors:
§ gaining valuable work experience, positioning young adults when they graduate;
§ getting a better sense of a particular job or career path;
§ expanding their professional network – leading to strong references or other potential employ
o Visiting prospective employers’ websites, Google related companies and the particular industry (is it growing, in decline, exciting?)
o Interview with as many employers as practical- compare jobs, pay, benefits, culture, etc. (we provide free downloadable templates at
6. Ensure that your children understand the commitments of the job, particularly early on when they may need to “pay their dues”
o The path to more glamorous assignments starts with logging in time performing some of the less desirable tasks exceptionally well (the old cliché of “starting in the mail room)
7. Teach fiscal responsibilities
o Everything in the “real world” has an associated cost (we provide downloadable “budget templates”, visit
o Make sure that they compare the entire compensation packages from employer to employer- base pay, bonus, stock options/purchase plans, 401(k) plans- matching contributions, vacation, work hours, perks (e.g., travel or meal), culture, and some of the intangibles
8 Determine if graduate school is requisite?
o If so, can parents help their children financially to continue education, or would the child be saddled with excessive debt upon completion?

Great words for all you monkeys out there.

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