Communicating with your college student

When my eldest child left for college, he chose not to call, text or email us for three weeks. This was his way of separating, but I didn’t like it. My daughter, on the other hand, follows the more typical college student practice of phoning me on her way to class. From a parent’s perspective, neither of these communication styles is particularly desirable. But we take what we can get. Technology may have made communicating with your college student easier. But in fact, modern communication vehicles compound age-old communication issues between parents and our emerging adult children.

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Cell phones make communicating with your college student easier

It goes without saying that cell-phone equipped college kids are more “in touch” today than we were. Members of our generation generally shared a landline phone with one or more roommates. Sometimes the best way to reach a friend was the memo board on her dorm room door. Now parents can call kids directly, plus we can send quick emails or texts like, “good luck on your midterms!” or “buy a plane ticket home before prices go up!” There’s no need to plan for a Sunday night phone call or interrupt our kids’ busy (ahem) schedules with a short message or reminder.

Cell phones make authentic communication harder

Even with smart phones everywhere, authentic communication between parents and our college children remains elusive. While it’s great to receive a photo of your child and her roommates, you’d really like to know how she feels about her relationships with them. You wish you knew whether she wants to be going out with her roommates, or whether she’d prefer to be doing something else. In short, you wish you could tell from the photo whether she “fits in.” But you can’t. It’s even worse with boys, since most of them give their parents minimal information. When they lived at home, at least you could see them and observe how they were doing. Now you’re at the mercy of their choice to reply (or not) to your messages. My youngest has a personalized ringtone for me in the tune of La Bamba, “You got a call from Mama.” It’s hilarious, but I can be sure he won’t answer the phone without knowing I’m on the other end.

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Communicating with your college student: The iConnected Parent

The iConnected Parent, first published in 2010, addresses cultural shifts in parent/student communications that parallel changes in technology. Written by Barbara K. Hofer, a psychology professor at Middlebury College, and Abigail Sullivan Moore, a journalist who reports on high school and college for the New York Times and other publications, the book compiles Dr. Hofer’s research on undergrads at Middlebury and the University of Michigan in 2006. While it paints a picture of helicopter parents who can’t leave their children alone at college, it also connotes the complexity of parent/child relationships in the Internet age.

Parents and students average 13.4 contacts per week

A frequently cited statistic from The iConnected Parent is that, on average, college students and their parents communicate (via phone, text or email) 13.4 times per week. This figure is slightly higher for girls and slightly lower for boys, but it doesn’t vary by ethnicity, race or distance from home. (Ch 2)  While parents initiate more of the contacts than kids do, communication goes both ways. And habits that started in high school, such as a parent helping to edit a child’s paper, can continue throughout college thanks to the ease of emailing documents back and forth.

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Problems with the “electronic leash”

In addition to emphasizing the student’s need to further his/her own development by separating from home, The iConnected Parent points out that parents are short-changing themselves by staying too connected to their kids. In past generations, the empty nest period tended to give parents a chance to reinvigorate their marriages and explore new interests or careers. Now parents never completely end their child-rearing years, as they continue to manage their children’s lives via cell phone and Internet. A conscientious parent may feel she needs to be constantly available to her college-age children — indeed, her kids depend on instant access. But such an arrangement heightens stress for parents and can even create a false sense of security for the child. (Ch 6)

Communicating with your college student: cut the cord

For the sake of parents as well as kids, the authors say, both parties need to “cut the cord.” How easy this is to do depends on patterns established during childhood. The authors’ observations suggest that helicopter parenting has lasting consequences, and their research highlights parent/child relationships with these types of patterns firmly in place. Given this vantage point, I feel relieved to have fewer contacts per week with my college kids than their study revealed to be the norm. At the same time, however, it would be nice for my offspring to phone home once in a while . . . A future post will offer tips on communicating with your college student. But if I’m going to achieve the average 13.4 communications with each of my college kids this week, I’ve got to shift my attention to texting and calling now. TTYL.

Image credits:
the girl who owns the world via Flickr, Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net, Amazon

 

Forcing myself to unplug in Yosemite

Despite magnificent weather, gorgeous scenery and the company of three of my four favorite people (our daughter wasn’t there), I still struggled over “unplugging” from the Internet in order to enjoy our family’s trip to Yosemite last weekend.

I knew from past trips that cellular coverage was spotty at best, and wifi would likely be available only in our motel’s common areas.  No problem – I had worked furiously on Internet-related projects before leaving town, so I figured things would be fine.

But I didn’t consider how pulling out my iPhone to check messages, get a weather report, or do a quick Google search has become a habit – something I do to fill a spare moment without even realizing it.  I knew from observing the 2011 National Day of Unplugging that I might have some “issues” – but this weekend brought me face to face with them, again.

When the front desk receptionist informed me that Yosemite Lodge now provides free wifi in the rooms, I thought, “How great — our national parks are joining the digital age.”  Then she added, “It’s been kind of touch and go lately.  What can I say?  I.T. is working on it.”

Sure enough, we got to our rooms and found that, while our sons were able to get random, weak wifi, my husband and I found ourselves sitting side by side, staring at blank browser screens and watching our “loading” wheels spin.  Also, our TV was tiny — you needed birding binoculars to check the Giants’ score unless you sat right next to it.  Which was kind of a problem, since there was only one chair in the room, and it was more of a desk chair, not a TV chair.  But what was I expecting, the Four Seasons?  That wasn’t the point, I reminded myself — we were here to enjoy Yosemite’s grandeur.

 

Mirror Lake 2012, by Micah Rosales

 

The next day was sunny and warm, not too hot.  Blue cloudless sky.  In other words, perfect.  We chose to hike up past Mirror Lake, a ideal route because, since a rock slide had closed off the trail higher up, few people bothered to go past the Mirror Lake destination. But at the same time as I was enjoying our journey, I knew the Prince of Smooth was playing Lord Valdemort in the French Open semi’s, and my iPhone wouldn’t even give me a score update, due to the lack of cellular data coverage.

[Read more…]

Of flames and forks

The flaming email — we’ve all received them.  We might even admit we’ve sent one.  Maybe not a flame that rages like a “Howler” in Harry Potter, but certainly one that smolders.  While we think of internet flames as caustic remarks on public message boards, PC Magazine defines to flame as “to communicate emotionally via email.”  If that’s the case, I’m definitely guilty of flaming, as are some people who have emailed me without pausing to re-read or reconsider before hitting “send.”  Numerous publications have explored the flame phenomenon, including Wired and the New York Times. Flaming arises in part due to a key problem with the email genre — namely, the brain’s inability to discern “tone” in the absence of facial and voice cues. To me, however, email flames are more than poor “netiquette:” they reflect how manners are changing not only in our cyber-communities, but also in our “real time” relationships.

I  bristle when I enter a bistro or church service, and I see a man wearing a baseball cap.  While I realize such behavior is ubiquitous and even accepted in our culture, it still bothers me.  I can’t help it: I was raised in the South at a time when gentlemen removed their caps while attending church or dining inside.  They opened doors for ladies – didn’t just hand off door handles like relay batons to females entering behind them.

Yet I wonder, what IS it that causes us to “forget” our manners?  Are we in too much of a hurry?  Consider, for example, the school carpool line.  Drivers actually try not to recognize each other.  Allowing a car to merge ahead of you is a sign of weakness, as is a wave of thanks from the “merger” to the rare person who lets her merge.  It’s the driver’s job, after all, to stay isolated and maneuver as quickly as possible to her destination.  [Read more…]

Unplugging, and facing the truth

Thank goodness, I’m back online.  Friday a story about the “National Day of Unplugging” came on my car radio.  You can read about “The Unplug Challenge” here .  Basically, you disconnect from your cell phone, email, text, Facebook, Twitter, etc. for a 24-hour period, to help you “slow down life in an increasingly hectic world.” Ironically, the Sabbath Manifesto folks created an app to help you disconnect.

Anyway, I decided to take the Unplug Challenge.  I spent Friday night sending emails, doing online “work” for my various volunteer jobs, and printing out documents from a class I’m taking online, so I could be productive even though “unplugged.”

I officially shut down my computer and turned off my cell phone and iPad at 8:30 pm.  With a little fear, but also self-satisfaction, I headed out to unwind in the hot tub.  While there I panicked, remembering a couple more messages I needed to send, plus the idea of putting a “vacation response” on my email — so people would know I hadn’t dropped off the face of the earth, merely unplugged from it.  I went in and booted up my computer, did these things and printed out Saturday’s calendar, since I wouldn’t have access to it on my phone or computer.  Much calmer, I officially began my Sabbath from the Internet at 9:30 pm.  [Read more…]

Packing (aka shopping) for college

“Mom, when are we going to start packing for college?”  Not that my daughter hasn’t already started.  In some ways I think she began five years ago, but she started in earnest about the time she turned in her matriculation forms.  She has assembled a packing list so impressive she probably could publish it in one of those “off to college” guides.  But, because you’re my friends, I’m offering it to you for free: Sarah’s College Packing List.

Since the items are shaded to indicate what she needs to buy now versus what she can or needs to buy once arriving at college, the project is well-delineated.  The two of us can break it into manageable pieces and more important, we can have fun doing it together — I’m looking forward to spending time with my daughter before she leaves home, helping her get ready to launch this next phase of her life.

It’s so different from when my son left for college last year.  He didn’t care about the lists I offered him.  Wasn’t interested for me to help him prepare by purchasing sheets, towels and other basics for his dorm room.  He mainly seemed concerned about backing up the (hopefully legal) files on his various hard drives and determining how to transport his electronics cross-country.  Since he was going to college in an urban area, he figured he could buy everything he needed after arrival — all that was required was access to Mom and Dad’s credit card.

Different approaches, both of them valid.  I eventually insisted that my son allow me to purchase at least some sheets and towels, as I needed to do it for my own process of letting him go.  He understood and relented.  He also let his father and me accompany him to the East Coast, but I saw his dorm room only that weekend and no more the entire year.  This was hard for me, but it was what he wanted.  I’ve seen him a lot this summer, and that’s been a real treat.

But with my girl, I get to go shopping!  We start next week, I think.  She’s in control of the list.  Thanks to Facebook, video chat and goodness knows what other wonders of modern technology, she already has more information about her room, its layout, her roommate (of course), and all kinds of stuff my generation could only have guessed at prior to arriving on campus.  All I know is that her energy level for college in general, and for shopping in particular, is high — I just hope I can keep up.