The helicopter parents have landed.
They’re on our site and they want us to help them. Should we?
These parents contact us on behalf of their adult sons or daughters. Their offspring presumably have better things to do than to be bothered with advocating their own consumer problems.
Rather than encouraging their “child” to contact us and advocate for themselves, these parents present a case that usually includes an excuse for why their kids are unable to be involved. Frequently, this child has made a mistake, and the parent doesn’t think the company should hold them responsible.
Take for instance, one of our recent cases. We were contacted by a mom who was enraged that her 18-year-old son was “taken advantage” of by Etihad Airlines.
Her son had checked in for his flight to Thailand and purchased one additional baggage allowance. However, Mom says that he did not need any additional bags, and she thought that Etihad’s website was confusing to her son, who is a new and inexperienced traveler.
Before she contacted us, she had already written multiple letters to Etihad chiding them for their refusal to overlook her son’s mistake and give him a refund. She was told by Etihad that her son had purchased a discounted nonrefundable baggage allowance online and that the terms were clear on their website.
When she posed her question to our forums, it was pointed out to her that her son should be presenting his own case. She said that wasn’t possible because he was presently enjoying a two-month “Trip of a Lifetime” traveling around the world … alone.
The irony that she believes her son is competent to navigate the world, but not Etihad’s website, was lost on this mom. Etihad declined her request for a refund and eventually stopped responding to her.
Spend a little time in our forums and you will see that this mother is not unusual in her quest to assist a “child.” In the following scenario, a mom wanted help to get her son home from Europe and get him a refund after his flight was canceled. But she wasn’t sure of all the details .
Unfortunately, these attempts frequently just add a layer of confusion to the case, since we are not actually dealing with a first-person account of the problem.
Of course, helicopter parenting is not new, but we are seeing its results in a population of young adults with parents who, when problems arise, contact college professors, airlines, doctors, employers and now even consumer advocates on their behalf.
This really is to their detriment.
What helicopter parents fail to recognize is that the act of solving one’s own problems or navigating a personal obstacle is character-building. These feats are necessary to have a successful transition into adulthood. Each time a young adult is encouraged to and expected to tackle a hurdle on their own, or with minimal parental guidance, their self-confidence grows. They learn that they can be competent problem-solvers.
And, even if they are unsuccessful with their ultimate goal, they learn to be resilient, which is an invaluable trait.
Conversely, when a parent swoops in and solves any problem that comes their child’s way, the message to the child is that they are incapable of helping themselves. This encourages children to remain dependent for far longer than necessary.
One other negative aspect of helicopter parenting is that it frequently supports a rejection of personal responsibility.
Just a few days ago, we received yet another request from a mom who wants us to advocate for her adult son. Three years ago, he signed up for a college textbook rental program in which, after a free 14-day trial period, he was charged $15 per month.
Or, I should say, his mother was charged, since he was using his mom’s credit card. He never canceled, and his mother believes that he never used the service.
She would like us to help get her a refund for three years of monthly payments. Her take on the situation is that her son was “duped” into this plan and did not understand the terms of the rental program. However, we are talking about a legal adult who signed up for a service and who has not contacted us for help. We don’t know his version of how this happened.
Who should be responsible here?
As consumer advocates, we want to help every consumer that requests our help. But, these parents are not the consumers.
Which leads us to ask the question: Should we adopt an explicit policy that if the consumer is 18 or older, we only advocate if that person contacts us directly? By assisting these parents, are we helping to create a generation of helpless consumers?
FYI, the mom of the Etihad passenger contacted us again and asked what more can be done. We encouraged her, now that her son has returned from his journey, to have him write his own letter to Etihad describing his problem. She was receptive to this suggestion.