Since beginning my counselling career in 2006, I have noticed 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 and 2012), this dependency on parents lasts well into their twenties. 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.
A version of this blog was previously published on CERIC’s GSEP (Graduate Student Engagement Program) Corner.
The following approaches have helped me achieve this balance when working with Gen Z clientele and their parents.
1. 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.
2. Initial appointments versus subsequent appointments
In my own practice, 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.
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 than having to disappoint the parent after that first call or email.
4. 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 toward 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.
“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.”
One example of this, from my own experience, was a young adult male client who was living at home with dad and who wanted to go back to school to get his GED. Dad was unsupportive for a variety of reasons and insisted that his adult son get a job. By bringing Dad into the counselling session, we were able to communicate the importance of the GED and Dad agreed to allow the son to remain at home for several while he achieved this goal. Dad was also provided with an opportunity to clearly identify his own expectations.
5. 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 twenties. While this is not necessarily problematic, what is most important is determine whose idea it is for counselling 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 an appointment on their own if they have missed an initial appointment booked by a parent.
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. Role playing can be especially useful in these situations. During role playing, clients can engage with the counsellor in a safe way that allows them to “practice” conversations that may seem difficult to initiate, such as their desire to take time off to work or travel before going to post-secondary training, in spite of their parents well-intentioned urging that they go immediately off to college or university. Exploring alternatives and helping the client to find his or her own voice can be helpful, while at the same time understanding that many clients are part of a larger family system that influences their options and resources at any given time.
7. 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 many young adults remain financially dependent upon their parents. It is the 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.
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