It was 2006 when The Wall Street Journal first observed the emergence of a new trend: parents who couldn’t cut the cord with their adult children, even in the workplace.

Helicopter Parents in the Workplace

In the years since, examples have proliferated of so-called “helicopter parents” – defined by overprotecting, overcontrolling, and over-perfecting parental involvement in a child’s life – appearing with more frequency on the job. Through a series of media articles spanning from 2012 to 2023, hiring managers, human resources officials, and supervisors have all recounted stories of parents submitting resumes on behalf of their children, calling on behalf of their children to negotiate salary increases, and otherwise meddling in their affairs. According to a Michigan State survey of 700 employers cited in 2012 by National Public Radio, “[f]our percent of respondents reported that a parent actually showed up for the candidate’s job interview.”

Impact on Cleared Workers

Yet an average observer might assume that the cleared workplace would be immune to this phenomenon given the secretive nature of the work and invasive background investigations that raise topics many would prefer not be discussed with their parents.

The average observer would be wrong.

This issue first drew my attention soon after opening a law practice in 2013. Within short order, my firm began receiving telephone calls and email inquiries from parents on behalf of their adult children facing the denial or revocation of a security clearance or other security-related issues at work. At first, it seemed reasonable: junior was working in a SCIF and couldn’t access his phone during work hours, or something similar. But the more it began happening, the more preposterous the excuses became and the more I noticed a pattern: almost always it was a mother or father calling for their adult son. I don’t know what it says about my gender, but I think only once do I recall receiving an inquiry on behalf of an adult daughter.

I began to realize that the mid-2010’s timing coincided with a sharp rise in helicopter parenting researchers began documenting in the 1990’s. Sociologists have suggested a variety of reasons for the trend’s emergence at that time, including increasing academic competition; taboos on leaving children alone brought about by the emergence of the “play-date;” and, increased societal awareness of child kidnapping from the highly publicized Adam Walsh case and the subsequent creation of the television show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Whatever the reason(s), I don’t think it is a coincidence that those 90’s kids were coming into their careers during the 2010’s. Since then, the phenomenon has only seemed to increase. By the time I retired from the private practice of law in 2023, I’d estimate that my firm was receiving one to two inquiries per week from parents on behalf of their adult children.

Issues with Helicopter Parents in the Cleared Workplace

On one hand, I can understand and appreciate the desire for parental involvement; most twenty-somethings have never previously hired an attorney, and the prospect can be unfamiliar or intimidating. On the other hand, these are grown adults dealing with legal problems; having mom or dad act as an intermediary raises a host of potential issues.

One such issue that helicopter parents take umbrage with is that their involvement may negate attorney-client privilege. Generally-speaking, only persons “necessary” to the representation (i.e., an interpreter) can participate in conversations between attorney and client without risking the legal confidentiality of those communications. Other third parties, even parents, are not considered “necessary” unless the client is a minor child or legally incapacitated.

Equally problematic is the issue of candor from client to attorney. Security clearance cases often involve highly sensitive issues like sexual behavior, substance abuse, criminal history, and integrity issues. As the attorney, I increasingly found myself forced to take a firm line with parents for fear that the adult child would withhold embarrassing, yet highly relevant, information from me if a parent was involved in the representation.

The situation is not unlike a patient visiting a doctor for heart problems and hiding a secret smoking habit because a parent is in the room. That’s a big risk to be taking solely because a parent can’t let go. In the employment context, it also isn’t a particularly good look. Yet if helicopter parents are willing to risk those consequences for their children by hovering over attorney-client relationships, no doubt they also see the cleared workplace as a viable landing pad. I suspect it is only a matter of time before classified information non-disclosure agreements are amended to specifically include clearance-holder parents as unauthorized recipients of government secrets.



This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Although the information is believed to be accurate as of the publication date, no guarantee or warranty is offered or implied. Laws and government policies are subject to change, and the information provided herein may not provide a complete or current analysis of the topic or other pertinent considerations. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 


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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at