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Young Adults Face Tough Job Market

6 ways parents can give unemployed kids a boost

En español | With unemployment at a historic high, anxiety is up for young job seekers — and for the parents who love them. Watching a daughter or son fire off countless résumés into an unresponsive cyberspace can make you feel worried and powerless.

 See also: Is 30 the new 20 for young adults?

The good news is that young adults seem to be handling things well. Given the current economic conditions, "they can't take their unemployment personally, and there's comfort in the group experience," says Robin Mount, director of the Office of Career Services at Harvard University.

Father and son on rocks by water-how to help adult unemployed children

Ask your job-seeking children, if they want your advice before giving it. — Masterfile/Radius/Corbis

But concerned parents may be having a tougher time watching their college grads struggle to gain financial independence. Here are five tips for how best to support (but not overwhelm) and guide (but not micromanage) your young adult's quest for a job.

1. Remember, it's your kid's job search, not yours. Just as some parents of high-school students think of the college application process as, "We're applying to these schools," it may be tempting to think about your college graduate's job hunt as "We're looking for a job." But a young adult who's ready for a job is also ready to search for one, so be careful that your well-intentioned help doesn't hinder.

Let your child follow his or her dreams. Maybe he'll accept a job at a struggling start-up that you'd never consider, or she'll pass up another one with benefits and pension that sounds fabulously secure to you. But young people need to make their own choices launching their work lives as well as learn from their own trial-and-error mistakes.

2. Provide a financial safety net if you can. You might have been able to support yourself as soon as you graduated from college, but that's not so much the case anymore. An increasing number of families are providing room and board to job-hunting, boomerang kids or those who have taken an unpaid internship or a low-paid temporary gig. For parents who can afford this continued support, the investment in your child's future can pay off later on while your child builds experience and expertise in a field with potential. Be honest and direct about what you can afford, whether it's time-limited, and whether you'd like some household help in exchange, like grocery shopping or making dinner.

3. Ask if they'd like your help. Some young job-hunters value parental expertise — after all, parents are often the same generation as future employers and know how they think (no to sandals at interviews, yes to a firm handshake). These kids welcome your two cents and feel supported by your guidance. But other children may interpret any advice as criticism and want to look for a job on their own terms.

Offer to help your son or daughter in a variety of ways — brainstorming about the best companies to approach, for example; or looking at a résumé and making suggestions for improvement. If your child accepts your assistance, great; if not, back off.

Next: A balanced approach for young job seekers.  »

4. Don't go overboard. Chances are that you've got some contacts that could be valuable to your child as he looks for work. There's no harm in providing names of people you know, but from there you should put the ball in your child's court. Hearing from parents that their grown child wants a job can be a turn-off to a prospective employer. Most would prefer to hire someone who shows the confidence and initiative to phone or email himself or herself. Also encourage your child to utilize his own network. Talk with him about how to approach former bosses, teachers and alumni from his alma mater for help in trying to find a job.

5. Patience, patience. Expensive college tuitions may create an expectation of return on an investment — good-salaried first jobs that will help repay college loans, or fund graduate school or the lease on a first apartment. But patience is the currency of the current downturn. "Parents need to calm down their expectations," advises Don Kjelleren, Director of Career Services at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt.

Keep in mind that there will be false starts and U-turns as well as stretches of silence or unsuccessful interviews while waiting for that first job. Offers that used to take six weeks can now take six months — or longer. So do your best to manage your own anxiety (vent privately to spouse or friends) and don't add your uncertainties to your child's.

6. Be sympathetic, supportive — and stand aside. Looking for a job can be more stressful than working full time, so give your young job-hunter plenty of credit for sending out résumés, making cold calls and pounding the pavement even without immediate results. Here, as everywhere, balance show respect for their growing maturity, and hold your counsel if your emerging adults have made it clear they want to get that first job on their own.

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