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  • Diana Schneidman

Helicopter parents and freelancing / consulting

Yes, there is a relationship between the two concepts but it’s going to take a little work here to develop the idea so let’s get started.

First, I’d like to call these parents “snowplow parents,” another term for “helicopter parents” that I heard on NPR last week. I like the mental picture of the snowplow pushing away roadblocks and how it matches the point I want to make better than does the idea of hovering.

It seems that students of all ages phone or text or email their parents to handle all their administrative hassles and even involve them in the job interview process. Hovering parents plow through all sorts of problems for their children rather than letting the children assume adult responsibilities.

Now I’d like to explain the connection between child / parent relationships and self-employment. Give me a little space to get there.

As background, I maintain that phoning corporate people who hire freelancers and consultants is a perfectly fine way to get work. As much as possible, we aim to warm up the relationship through meeting them at networking events, referrals from friends, and membership in the same organizations.

However, sometimes you know that an individual or a company would be your ideal client even though you can’t find a warm link to them.

When that happens, the answer is to make what some would call a “cold call.” It may be a scary concept to those who have never done it, but it’s not difficult when you know what to say and when you understand that a successful call benefits them just as much as it benefits you.

I meet many people who can’t bring themselves to make a cold call (and have a lot of fear making warm calls as well).

Coincidentally, many high school students, college students, and even graduates can’t make a phone call on their own to follow up on a job application, ask for freelance or consulting assignments, or do any other heavy lifting by phone, e.g., pursuing a health insurance claim, fixing a problem with their bank account, or tracking down a sweater they left somewhere.

Colleges claim that they teach students to analyze problems, conduct research, draw and justify conclusions, make ethical and logical decisions, and such.

I’m under impressed. What’s the point of all these high fallutin’ big ideas if you can’t pick up the phone and call who you need to call?

Apparently schools, especially high schools, have introduced financial education classes to teach students things we think they would learn in the school of life. These topics include how to balance a checkbook (something I haven’t needed to do for at least 15 years because I can see where my bank account stands by checking my account on line) and how to keep from getting in over your head on credit card debt. (Seems the interest keeps building if you don’t pay off your account every month. Who’d have thought it?)

If you’re going to have such classes, teaching students how to use the phone to make challenging phone calls should be in the curriculum.

It’s inexcusable that young adults can’t manage the day-to-day roadblocks we run up against throughout our lives.

I’d like to suggest that the problem is with the schools in allowing students to pass off responsibilities to their parents. Schools—even at the elementary level—should encourage students to go to the office and handle independently anything they understand enough to handle. It’s ridiculous that schools tolerate students passing on responsibility to their parents.

However, I’d like to suggest that the problem with schools, especially at the college level where students are adults and can handle anything any other adult can handle, is bigger than wimpy children.

The problem is that schools are darn expensive yet extremely unresponsive to students. Students get frustrated with schools that are extremely expensive, with students even at public colleges, racking up tens of thousands of dollars of debt, yet enrolling large numbers of students who can’t get registered for the courses they need on a schedule that permits on-time graduation and using part-time instructors who aren’t paid sufficiently to provide the level of personal involvement with students we would expect.

I took a college course at the local community college a few years ago and the parking problem was extreme. You’d have to show up early for evening classes to get a parking space during the time slot between most afternoon and evening courses. If you were running late, you were sunk.

At 10 in the morning there were no available parking spaces—you’d find a rare student walking to his car mid-morning and drive alongside him until he vacated his space.

It’s sad when young adults cannot take care of their own business. And it’s also sad when they are so frustrated with the institutions that are supposed to serve them that they don’t expect responsive customer service.

I’d guess that the problem is getting worse. As some parents throw their weight around at college administrative offices, more students feel they must resort to the same tactic to access limited resources.

To sum it all up, as more people of all ages find themselves freelancing and consulting, it’s more important than ever that students become accustomed to making their own phone calls and administering their own lives and work. Not only are schools not helping students to develop these skills, they are failing to provide a supportive environment that enables students to take responsibility for themselves.

As a sidenote, freelancers and consultants are especially at risk of becoming snowplow parents. We have the privacy and freedom of a home office so we can fit in all sorts of administrative tasks that adult children can handle for themselves.

Originally posted 4-28-14

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