By Lesley Sillaman, Wednesday, February 13, 2013, at 9:00 am.
Now that all the college kids in my neighborhood are back at school after the year-end holidays and January terms, I’ve been thinking about parent-child connectivity. (My children are still small, but in our always-on world, I know I’ll have to address this sooner than I might think.) I heard a story not too long ago on NPR reviewing research on the way technology has strengthened such connections. College students communicate with their parents on average 13.4 times a week, it quoted one study; another said that about 40 percent of college students are in touch with their parents by phone, email, text or visit at least once a day.
In the piece, Rodney Johnson, executive director of George Washington University’s Office of Parent Services (one of many universities that created such offices because of increased parental involvement), reminisces about his college years, when parents “dropped you off at the curb, you went in [and] you unpacked.” I’ve heard similar stories from my parents and people in their generation—tales of making calls home once a week from a communal phone in the dorm hallway.
Things had changed by the time I went to college in the mid-1990s, but even then the vast majority of college students still didn’t have cellphones. Intermittent calls from a fixed location, usually a dorm room, were the norm, generally a few times a week and fairly brief (at least in my case).
Then, at the height of the helicopter parent trend, the National Survey of Student Engagement said 86 percent of college freshmen frequently contacted Mom by phone or computer; 71 percent communicated frequently with Dad. Now, because of the smartphone explosion (research by Ball State University says 69 percent of college students use them, a number that’s predicted to rise to 90 percent by 2014), we’re seeing a generation that’s always connected.
But I also wonder whether parents’ personalities and views on parenting lend themselves to—or form habits of—constant connectivity with their kids long before high school and college.
I talked to a friend recently about parenting styles. We’re only a few years into being parents but already notice big differences in styles and definitions of involvement and communication. There are obvious differences between families with a stay-at-home parent and two working parents, but even among parents who work outside the home, I’ve seen major variations.
One mom proudly recounted her involvement in her child’s preschool education, citing daily texts and emails with the teacher and principal of the school, taking on fundraising activities and ensuring continuity with school friends by organizing group playdates after school. By contrast, some parents (including me) consider their day care/preschool arrangement to be far more businesslike, with the majority of feedback and teacher interaction taking place during scheduled parent-teacher conferences and no real involvement (or pressure for it) outside school hours.
Neither is right or wrong, of course, but an argument could be made that we are forming habits that might affect future connectivity practices years before our children own smartphones or log on to Facebook and Twitter.
Schedules for parents, especially those of us who work outside the home, already have an established pattern of limited communication with our children during the day, with just a small amount in the morning (or in the case of one of my children, none at all; she’s a sleeper!) and several hours in the evening.
Obviously, I do want to know what is going on in my children’s lives, and I don’t want them to feel as if they have to talk to me only during a scheduled time. But I also don’t know that I want to start a pattern of having no scheduled time for it. Text and Facebook messages, tweets, etc. all convey a sense of immediacy, if not urgency, for replies—a pattern that can be set up to fail from the beginning. I’d like to think that when my children encounter the inevitable tough moments during college that, although their first instinct might be to reach out to the phone, they take at least a minute to consider their options for problem solving without the help of their mobile network. And then, if they still need it, of course, they would know they could make the call.
[photo: creativecommons.org/Unhindered by Talent]
This entry was posted on Wednesday, February 13th, 2013 at 9:00 am. It is filed under Features, Insights, Social Media, Technology, Youth and tagged with cellphone, child, children, college, connection, connectivity, day care, email, Facebook, George Washington University, helicopter parent, involvement, National Survey of Student Engagement, NPR, parent, parenting, phone, preschool, smartphone, student, text, tweet, Twitter. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
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