Are you a wired parent? Have you failed to cut the electronic umbilical cord tied between you and your college student? How connected should you be?
These are all interesting questions. While we can laugh at the exaggerated references to "helicopter parents" who continue to provide wake-up calls to their college-age children, finding the appropriate balance of communication can be quite tricky.
In "The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up," Barbara Hofer and Abigail Sullivan Moore discuss how parent/child communication has changed from the once-weekly collect call to a variety of forms of instant contact.
Instant and constant
"Thanks to the exponential proliferation of communicative technologies such as cell phones, e-mail, Skype, Facebook and more, college students really are more in touch with their parents than ever before -- and what constitutes a "normal" amount of contact is recalibrated (upward) with each passing year."
Having the ability to connect 2 4/7 has its advantages and disadvantages. Technology helps bonding. It is just so easy to stay in touch. Many families report that their relationships with their children in college improve dramatically because, while they no longer have the day-to-day frustrations with messy rooms, etc., they just have good, substantive conversations.
However, according to Hofer and Moore, when parents and their children communicate too frequently, it can hinder students' maturity by preventing them from making their own decisions and taking responsibility for their own behavior. At the same time, too much communication can also keep parents from moving onto the next chapter in their lives.
Surprising level of contact
See which side of average you fall on. Hofer and Moore report that college students were in contact with their parents an average of 13.4 times per week with no meaningful difference by year in school, institution, socioeconomic level, region, distance from home or secondary school background (public or private school). There was only a small gender difference.
I have a son who is a senior in college and a daughter who is a sophomore, and we talk a few times a week but not even close to approaching double digits. I have to admit I am shocked by that 13.4 number. I wonder what they're talking about. Who is really benefiting from that much contact? Some students report a "best friend phenomenon" with their parents where they choose to share everything that is going on, essentially trading off their own independence for closeness and support from their parents. These students often have difficulty adjusting socially and academically to school.
This close connection is now carrying over into the job search, with parents accompanying their children to interviews and more.
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte, N.C. For more information, visit www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com.