How Facebook will keep your college kid from growing up
In today’s world, going off to college doesn’t necessarily mean growing up. What used to be a rite of passage into clear-cut adulthood has become a prolonged adolescence for many college students — thanks in large part to computers and cell phones which, according to a new book The iConnected Parent, form “a continuous cord from home to campus.”Technology has ushered in a new brand of parenting, one that is a “potent new mix of devoted parent, guide and friend, fluent in speed-dial, Facebook and the click of a mouse.” (p.4) But is all this connectedness really good for college students who are learning how to become successful, independent adults?
Barbara K. Hofer, Ph.D. and Abigail Sullivan Moore, the authors of The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up, present some compelling research which shows a major cultural shift in how long children remain attached to home. The authors acknowledge that the closeness afforded by instant, continuous communication can be beneficial.
When I spoke with Moore, she said that text messages and phone calls home were often "day-brighteners" for both children and parents. But when frequency of communication hinders the student from learning important life skills, that's when a parent may have become over-involved in their child's life. The authors' research suggests that “students who have the most frequent contact with their parents are less autonomous than other students.” (p.39)
Some might think that this is just the logical result of helicopter parenting. But surprisingly, the authors found that many college students wanted their parents’ increased involvement. These students had no problem with their parents monitoring their homework (p.17), proofreading their papers (p.47) and sometimes even intervening in their romantic lives (p.54). Because their parents had always played such an active role in their childhood, these students and parents saw no reason why their involvement should diminish.
The problems arose when students felt pressure from their parents to switch majors—a move that fulfilled their parents’ passions and not their own.
Another troubling result was that by the time college students should have begun thinking for themselves in regards to, say, voting for a Presidential candidate, the children’s values were still copies of their parents’ values. Instead of wrangling through the issues on their own, the students were still deferring to Mom or Dad's opinion rather than working to find those “deeply reflected and hard-won parts of their own sense of their adult self.” (p.40) What the authors discovered was that “high-contact and low autonomy are connected, so the dependency can now continue unabated, fueled by cell phones and email.” (p.40)
All the connectivity sometimes places a strain on college administrators and educators as well. Some parents will directly interact with the college through their child’s college email account. And the ease of swapping papers through email has enabled parents to “assist” with homework assignments. In fact, in one course at Vanderbilt University, “41% of [a professor’s students] had admitted to having parents help with their assignments; about 90% said they knew someone who did.” (p.63) This can be frustrating for educators who lament the violation of academic integrity by the use of “unauthorized collaborators.” (p.64)
Of course, having an actively involved, well-meaning parent is a huge benefit to the college student. Moore was quick to assure me that maintaining a strong parental bond with a college-aged child is important. She said that parents often ask her how frequently they should talk with their college-aged children.
"There is no magic number," Moore says. "What matters is what is said and who calls first. It's hard to wait for kids to call first, but it's important to let them take a reasonable lead in communicating."
A strong relationship like that can only be further enhanced when parents follow some helpful guidelines in order to encourage their child’s autonomy.
To that end, here are a few tips from The iConnected Parent:
- Start early. The patterns of involvement and communication established in the early years of adolescence will carry over into college.
- Before your child leaves for college, decide together how often to talk and set a regular time.
- Make sure dad is included. College students say they want to talk to him more.
--Elizabeth Esther, The Orange County Register, Oct. 4, 2010
Elizabeth Esther is a local freelance writer and married mother of five. She writes weekly for OC Moms about her relationship with the tech world.