Parenting in the Communication Era

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Quotes transcribed nearly verbatim from a Johns Hopkins send-off party I attended for new students entering their freshman year and matriculated students headed back to college from summer break:

  • "I told Charlie that he needs to text me in the morning and either call or text when he's in his room for the night each night—no matter how late that is."

  • "When I got my course catalog for last semester, my mom told me what I should sign up for."

There's a lot of criticism for helicopter parents. Yet over and over again, parents hear that their involvement makes critical differences in their kids' success. Most parents want the best for their children, right?

And technology has made it so easy for parents to hover.

An NPR story by Reema Khrais, "Phone Home: Tech Draws Parents, College Kids Closer," points to research by Barbara Hofer, Arthur Levine, and Diane Dean indicating that

  • college students communicate with parents 13.4 times per week, on average, and

  • 40 percent of college students and parents are in touch by phone, e-mail, or text messaging at least once a day.

When I was in college, I think my parents and I tried to talk once a week. (Sunday, if I remember correctly. We had to plan it, so we could stay near our landlines for the call.) Even now, I'm not sure I connect with any one person every single day.

I'm sorry that kids today don't have the parental untethering I did when I left for school.

But are the parents fully to blame?

Remember my post about launching? As I wrote, if I'd had a cell phone, my fender-bender incident would have transpired differently. And if so, I'd have been to blame for staying tethered to home. After all, I called Dad for help.

In college, if I'd had the chance to reach my mom and dad at any moment via multiple media, I would have done so. I felt wrenched when my parents left me freshman year. I recall excitedly—if not desperately—checking my mailbox for letters and care packages.

Caring, loving parents can't easily ignore their children—even when the children have ostensibly left their nests. So yes, parents should "know best" and not cave to every kid's every whim, but what exactly should they say and do? Where do they draw the line?

What would you recommend?