By Janet Payne

Since beginning my counselling career in 2006, I have noticed some fairly significant changes in the relationships between young adults and their parents, with the most obvious change being the increased frequency in the number of parents, often mothers, who accompany their young adult children to career counselling sessions. For some young adults within Generation Z, (defined as those born between 1995-2012), this dependency on parents lasts well into their 20s. For some seasoned counsellors, navigating their way through this new territory where helicopter parenting has become the norm can be challenging. Maximizing this often-valuable support system, while empowering the young adult to find his or her own voice, has become my goal when dealing with this dynamic.

I have found that the following approaches have helped me achieve this balance when dealing with Gen Z clientele. While parental involvement is not a universal theme, I find it happens often enough that new counsellors may benefit from some helpful strategies:

Careful arrangement of furniture

Something as simple as how an office is arranged can have a significant impact on relationship building and focus of attention. Placing a comfortable chair in the far corner of the room allows the counsellor to direct mom or dad to the corner while maintaining a closer proximity to the client.

Initial appointments versus subsequent appointments

In my own practice of career counselling, I invite the parent into the room, with the client’s permission, for the initial session but explain that the work we will be doing together will be one on one from that point on, and that we may invite the parent back in for a future meeting. This allows the client to feel safe and supported during the initial meeting, but also allows for privacy and rapport building between counsellor and client during the subsequent sessions.

Communication

At the end of the initial session it is helpful to remind the parent that all communication from that point on will be between the adult child and the counsellor, and that you will not be providing direct updates to the parent due to issues of confidentiality. This is often a much easier approach that having to disappoint the parent after that first call or e-mail.

Messages from home

Young adult children may remain financially dependent upon parents for an extended period, especially if they are full-time students. Understanding this dynamic and being empathetic towards the pressures that these influences may have on the client is very important. Moving toward group-based family therapy and away from one-on-one sessions for a brief period may be helpful if messages from home seem particularly challenging to the client.

Booking the initial appointment

It is not uncommon for parents to book the initial career counselling session, even for clients who are well into their 20s. While this is not necessarily problematic, what is most important is determining whose idea the counselling was in the first place and whether the young adult is interested in engaging in this relationship. While each counsellor and/or agency will set their own standards, my practice is to insist that the client take the initiative to book the appointment on their own if they have missed an initial appointment booked by a parent.

Empowerment

Empowering young adults to see their own strength, resources, resilience and decision- making capacity is important in situations where the parent is overly involved and the client appears to be unable to make decisions that may not be in line with the parent’s wishes. Narrative therapy and role-playing can be especially useful in these situations.

Remembering who the client is

Most importantly, remembering that the young adult is the client and that their voice is the focus of any conversation is especially important when the counsellor is faced with influences and messages from home. While parents mean well and are often the client’s greatest resource, remembering who the client is remains crucial to the career counselling relationship.

While generational trends come and go, it is unlikely that parents will cease to be significant influences within their adult children’s lives, especially within an economy where educational requirements may take several years to attain, and young adults remain financially dependent upon their parents. It is this emotional dependence that is of more significance to counsellors as we navigate these new waters and determine how to best meet our clients’ needs while respecting both their autonomy and their close relationships with their sometimes very involved parents. It is a dance we will continue to perform as new trends emerge.

Author Bio

Janet Payne is the mother of seven children, a grandmother, career counsellor and first-year PhD student attending the University of Prince Edward Island. The focus of her research is on seeking alternatives to traditional assessment-style career counselling, while paying attention to alternative ways of knowing more common in traditional matriarchal societies.

References

Cui, M., Darling, C. A., Coccia, C., Fincham, F. D., & May, R. W. (2019). Indulgent parenting, helicopter parenting, and well-being of parents and emerging adults. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 28(3), 860–871. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10826-018-01314-3

Levine, K. A., & Sutherland, D. (2013). History Repeats Itself: Parental Involvement in Children’s Career Exploration. Canadian Journal of Counselling and Psychotherapy, 47(2), 239–255. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.upei.ca/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1016333&site=eds-live&scope=site

Vaishnavi, J., & Kumar, A. (2018). Parental Involvement in School Counseling Services: Challenges and Experience of Counselor. Psychological Studies, 63(4), 359–364. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12646-018-0463-9