NEW YORK. Safra Cohen is a lowly first-year associate at a corporate law firm with offices in mid-town Manhattan who has spent her first three months on the job as the junior member of a team working on a billion-dollar merger. Her office is furnished with a standard-issue desk and file cabinets, but she has managed to soften it by a floral print and a potted plant that could have been purchased by thousands of other young lawyers like her across town. There is one fixture that is totally unique to her surroundings, however; her mother.
“I’ve been involved in Safra’s education since I wrote her first application to the Solomon Schecter Day School,” says Sheila Cohen. “I’m not going to leave her hanging out there now that she’s getting started in her career.”
“Helicopter parents,” so-called because of the way they hover over their children as they face life’s challenges, have moved on to the next stage of their off-springs’ lives–the world of business and the professions–creating new workplace tensions and challenges for business etiquette.
“A helicopter parent is one who simply can’t let go of his or her precious little baby,” says Ellen Dowling of Hinsdale College in Illinois, a no-nonsense liberal arts school that prohibits parents from accompanying children to class or providing them with answers to tests. “They’re baby-boomers who never got over their sense of entitlement, and they’re passing the same spoiled mind-set down to their children,” she notes. “Either that or they actually own a helicopter, which is even worse.”
So major companies who compete for top graduates to fill entry-level positions have begun to offer “Bring Your Mother (or Father) to Work Day,” a once or twice a week accommodation for children who, while they may have received top-notch academic training, have not yet developed a sense of mature judgment to guide them through tough negotiations or intra-office politics.
“The first day I got here I looked around and checked out the other kids’ offices,” says Martha Lynch whose son Toby is an assistant loan officer at Credit Banque, an international trade bank in lower Manhattan. “Every other new hire got colored paper clips and Toby was stuck with those yucky metal ones that get all rusty when they sit for too long in your files. I marched straight down to the Senior Vice President’s office and gave him a piece of my mind, not that I’ve got that much to spare.”
The parents themselves say they are merely protecting their expensive investment in an education–prep school and undergraduate and graduate study–whose price tag is in many cases more than they paid for their first home. While the term “helicopter parents” has been around since the early 1990′s, it has recently achieved more serious consideration as economists have become concerned over the effect the phenomenon may have on America’s long-term competitiveness. “Say you’re in Tokyo negotiating a big joint venture with Mazda and you hit a bottleneck over labor costs,” says Ryan Coburn of Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Do you want somebody representing you whose mother’s heating up Lipton Cup-a-Soup for her little darling? I don’t think so.”
Speaking of food, it’s lunch time at Alexander, Fanning & Co., an investment bank with offices on Wall Street, and senior partner Whitney Stillman is walking the halls looking for a “warm body” to accompany him to a client lunch. He sticks his head in the office of Alexandria Keats, a 2022 graduate of Wellesley College, and asks if she can join him. “Spencer had to cancel on me and I’ve got the folks in from Glenmore Industries–are you free?” She starts to say “yes” but her father, a retired lawyer, intervenes. “If you’ve got two seats–fine,” he says. “Otherwise, my little girl is staying put.”