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Advice from a Tiger Dad

The commencement celebrations are over and now reality sets in: they’re back! Some fortunate grads may have jobs but many will have the misfortune to graduate into the worst economy in 60 years, as workplace expert Dr. Carl Van Horn noted  last week.

We all have friends and relatives with adult children—if not our own “little monsters”—in this situation.  In conversations with other parents, I hear the same themes repeated about the newly unemployed:

  • He thinks looking for a job means spending an hour a day on Monster.com
  • She can’t find work in her field and considers anything else “beneath” her.
  • He wants to go to graduate school while he “sits out” the recession.
  • She’s been offered a job but doesn’t think the money and/or the position is good enough.

In honor of Father’s Day we decided to turn to a father for some advice and sought Gary Foreman, a former financial planner who edits The Dollar Stretcher website.  Mr. Foreman can qualify for the title “Tiger Dad” when it comes to his tough-love advice on parenting young adults looking for first jobs.

Mr. Foreman has two adult children—one in college, the other in law school—and has been answering readers’ money questions for 15 years.  His economic philosophy—aka dollar stretcher—is getting the most for your money and that includes maximizing the return on a six-figure college education. He recently offered some “Tips for getting grown children out of the nest,” and we chatted about his suggestions.

Q. Our role as parents seems unclear at times, especially when our children move back home.

A. As a parent of an adult child, your job is to help them to the next stage of development.   Recognize that there is a difference between helping them and enabling them. Providing food and shelter while they look for a job is helping them.  Allowing them to hang around the house all day is enabling them to stay stuck in unhealthy behavior.

Q. In your column you offer some no-nonsense advice for parents. Let’s go through a few points.  The first is “Expect them to look for a job everyday, even if it’s a job that has nothing to do with their degree.”

A. Looking for a job is different than it used to be.  Now you can sit in your bedroom in your PJ’s and job hunt.  But that’s not enough. You can spend a lot of time online sending out a stack of 200 resumes but having lunch with your roommate from sophomore year might be more useful.  Young people need to get out and talk to their friends and college mates who are employed and network with them. Also if they keep finding jobs that they don’t have the proper qualifications for then they need find out what it would take to get those qualifications and see if they are within reach financially.

Q. Your next tip: “Expect them to report to you what they did that day to find employment. In detail.”

A. They need to make finding a job their job. This is about teaching them to be responsible for themselves.  Presumably they will spend a full day looking.  If they don’t you will know when they are sandbagging you and, if so,  it’s time to make the nest less comfortable.  Yes, it is pretty scary poised on the edge of the nest not knowing if you can fly, but the last thing a parent wants is a kid sitting on the couch playing video games.

Q. Next: “Don’t allow them to say that any work is beneath them or their degree.”

A. My point is if  you don’t have a job, then take any job that comes along and keep looking for a better one until you reach a level that you feel suits your skills. It’s easier to find a job when you have one. Also no matter how low on the scale the job may be chances are the employer has more responsible jobs too to work your way up to.

Q.  Next: “Don’t be afraid to let them go without. If money is tight, cut the cable TV. Let it be known that you expect them to raise cash by selling some of their possessions.”

A. It’s one thing to give an allowance to an 8-or 12-year-old.  To give an allowance to a college graduate is making it possible for them to stay a child and that’s taking them in wrong direction. They may not like babysitting or sweeping floors but there are ways to earn money while looking for a job.

Q.  And, if all these approaches don’t work?

A. Ultimately, you may find that you need to be like the mother bird who pushes the young ones out of the nest. Until she does, the baby birds will never realize that they can fly. By providing a “nest,” you may be preventing them from stretching their wings. It’s scary to throw them out onto the street, but that might be the only way to make them take responsibility.

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