Massachusetts Daily Collegian

The digitally-connected parent

By Katie Byrne

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September has almost come and gone, and most students have finally settled into their routines. Some parents are experiencing the “empty-nest” syndrome while some might be worried their son or daughter not eating enough vegetables, drinking enough milk or getting enough sleep. College kids 15 years ago were not subject to the bombardment of these kinds of questions from parents since cell phones were not readily available and the idea of Facebook wasn’t even thought of. Now, those parental fears can be lessened with just a call or a click.

Some might argue that since parents are able to contact their children easier than ever before it could benefit the relationship as a whole. The question becomes, “How much is too much?” How much contact is healthy for a parent to have with their college student, and in what ways can students and parents find a balance in communicating effectively?

Barbara K. Hofer, Professor of Psychology at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vermont and co-author of the book, “The iConnected Parent: Staying Connected to Your College Kids (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up,” published in Aug. 2010, helped to answer some of these questions. The research for her book was initially conducted in Middlebury, Vt. with Middlebury College Students, then eventually expanded to the University of Michigan where a more stratified sample of students were surveyed.

During a phone interview earlier this week, Dr. Hofer emphasized how developmentally crucial this transitional phase of a student’s life is and how his or her parents need to understand the importance of letting go.

“Parents need to try hard to realize this is a different phase of life,” she said. “Kids need to learn how to do things on their own without their parents being too involved.”

Chandler Kaplan, a freshman, will answer her parents depending on the situation.

“When my parents call, I just press ignore if I don’t feel like talking, and I’ll talk to them whenever,” she said.

 Leah Jacobson, also a freshman, calls her parents once or twice a week and texts them about once a day just to check in.

With cell phones, e-mail, Skype and Facebook among others, communicating has never been easier. Parents have access to all of these means of communication which puts them one click away from being connected to their son or daughter.

Hofer commented that there needs to be a fine balance between checking in and giving kids their personal space.

“It should be about quality not quantity, so don’t use phone calls to nag or remind. There are ways to be involved without being too involved,” she said. “Let the student do the guidance about how much is enough.”

Junior Hannah Stoops said that she has a system of sorts set up with her parents.

“I think the boundaries came naturally for us, because when I was a freshman I would call every three to four days, and if I didn’t call by the fifth day my parents would call me,” she said.

Janine Roberts Ed. D., Professor at the University of Massachusetts commented in a phone interview that students just need to develop on their own.

 “This is the first time at 18, 19 or 20 that kids have to structure their own lives. They’re going to have ups and downs and make mistakes,” she said. “The best thing is for parents to just be available.”

James Covino and Brian Carroll, both freshmen, said they haven’t spoke to their parents since they moved in two weeks ago.

“I have a missed call from my Mom, and I haven’t called her back yet,” stated Covino.

Both agree that they’ll only contact their parents when they need something, never just to talk.

When Facebook was introduced into the conversation, Hofer addressed the concerns she has with parents using Facebook to connect with their children.

“There was a brief period of time Facebook was the playground for college students, they had the freedom to explore that space,” she said. “It is a wonderful place for adults to reconnect with old friends and classmates, but there is a difference between commenting to peers on Facebook and commenting to kids on Facebook.”

When conducting research, Hofer found that some students have activated two Facebook accounts, one for their parents and one for their friends.

Chelsea Carlson, a freshman, said that she would rather leave her parents off of her online social life.

“My Mom has a Facebook, she’s tried to friend me, but I don’t add her,” she said

Expanding on this, Hofer explains how the wrong kind of communication will result in the lack of students’ growth and independence.

“This is the time for students to be making connections to other peers, not to parents, she said.

Katie Byrne can be reached at [email protected]

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