You just left your child in a dilapidated university dorm room. Now he or she must deal with term papers, inconsiderate roommates and cram sessions. But with access to mobile technology, kids don’t have to handle those issues on their own any more, and today’s empty-nest parents aren’t cutting that metaphorical cord when they should, argues Abigail Sullivan Moore, a West Hartford, Conn.-based journalist.
In The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up, Ms. Moore and co-author Barbara K. Hofer, a psychology professor at Middlebury College in Vermont, say technology has allowed kids to depend on their parents to solve even their smallest problems throughout university, stalling their transition into adulthood.
Ms. Moore spoke to The Globe and Mail, and joins us Monday at 1 p.m. to take your questions online.
This kind of communication is very different from the kind kids would’ve had a decade ago. It’s a mix of e-mails, text messages, Skype conversations, phone calls, a lot of shorter points of communication. How is the content different?
What happens with cellphone communication is that parents are immediately pulled into the daily dramas of their kids’ lives on a minute-by-minute basis. And that is so different from the kind of communication that we had 10, 20 years ago because the parents – and I’m one – respond to their kids’ distress and you get pulled right in because you’re on the spot or you can Skype and you can see your child crying or being upset. … It’s very hard for parents to not get swept up and want to respond and help their child out of a problem or situation that years ago the kid would’ve solved themselves.
You describe one student who e-mailed her dad papers because she was scared of judgment by people at the campus writing centre and she also said that communicating with her dad and sending work to him boosted her confidence because he wasn’t as harsh on her as an outsider would be. Do you think this is the main reason students are avoiding looking for supports on campus?
I think it’s easier for students to have their parents look at their work if that’s what they’ve done all through high school. If they’re very used to mom and dad editing their papers and working closely with them and now they have the technology to do that, it’s within their comfort zone to continue doing that. And they don’t see that as something that might be unethical or not appropriate because they’ve always done it.
What about the personal side of it when a student is squabbling with their roommate? The one instance you list in the book of the girl who went a little too crazy with partying in her first year [and got very sick]and her parents actually came to campus to find her and took her home for the rest of the weekend. The kids really seem to not only be accepting of this, but inviting it.
I think there are some students … [whose]parents have always been involved and this is what these students know at this point in their life and they are comfortable with it. That being said, if you dig a little, some of these kids are ambivalent about this level of involvement. They see the kid down the hall being more independent … So on the one hand they’re very comfortable with their parents but on the other hand, they start to question it, say, ‘Gee, I wish I could be a little more independent.’
In most of your book you examine the darker side of excessive communication that parents have with their kids and vice versa but you also note in this one survey that kids admitted using text and e-mail as a way to let their parents know they were okay, to check in with them, rather than to have an extended conversation. Can you tell me the benefits of this technology? Another thing you explored is that it’s a way for dads to communicate with kids.
We don’t want parents to stop communicating with their kids and kids to stop communicating with their parents. We just want them to do it in a way that’s healthy for the kid’s development. So in the book we give some positive examples of how this can happen: Text messages or … if a student is studying abroad and they’re sending in a photo of this great monastery or building or meal they just ate. … What we’re concerned about is when parents are calling a couple of times a day and not letting kids have the chance to separate and develop their own values, make their own decisions. On the flip side, when kids are calling their parents several times a day, the kids aren’t allowing themselves to have those opportunities to grow.
I know that you just dropped your own son off for his first year of college recently. What was the conversation you had with him about how the two of you will stay in touch?
What we said to Jack was, ‘Really honey, it’s up to you. We want to hear from you once a week. We want to hear how things are going in your life and we want to be able to tell you what’s going on in our life.’ So I think a once-a-week call to talk about things for more than two minutes is a perfectly reasonable expectation. So we’re letting him set the pace here and we’ve done that throughout high school with him and gave him, in a very gradual way, opportunities for him to be independent.
This interview has been condensed and edited.