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Moms' Talk: Constant Contact Between Parents, Children Easier Than Ever, But Is That Good?

A new book explores the phenomenon of high school students and subsequently, college students’, constant contact with their parents.

The messages started coming fast and furiously

Jun 25, 2011 2:25 PM

Me: Meet at Subway

Ana: Were outside waiting for u there

Jun 25, 2011 2:27 PM

Sophia: ITS BEEN 15 MINUTES WHERE ARE YOU??

Me: Meet at subway or ride home

Sophia: We are subway!! Are

You there?

The girls rode their bikes to town and got to the library only to find out it closes early during the summer months.  They stopped at Cumby’s for refreshments and now they were ready to meet for lunch. The only problem, it was about 15 minutes before my husband, Bob, and I were ready to meet them.

Thus, the steady stream of e-mails and phone calls started and they were relentless.  Here we are trying to get out of the house to meet them and the messaging and phone calls are streaming in. 

I am sure that many of you have been on the receiving line of this kind of tirade? How does it make you feel? How do you handle exchanges like this?

“I believe we have become conditioned, all of us, not just our kids, but I think all of us are conditioned to get an immediate response,” says Abigail Sullivan Moore.  “We expect to be able to reach anybody, anywhere, anytime.  If we can’t we get anxious.”

Moore’s book The iConnected Parent ~ Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up has just been released in paperback.  Moore, a journalist who has reported on college trends for the New York Times, co-wrote this book with Barbara K. Hofer, PH.D., a Middlebury College professor of psychology.  Moore and Hofer crisscrossed the country interviewing and researching the phenomenon of high school students and subsequently, college students’ constant contact with their parents.

“Everything’s so immediate today,” says Moore. “If we can’t get somebody on their home phone we’ll call their office phone, we’ll call their cell phone, we’ll text them, we’ll e-mail them, we will leave voice messages.  I think we are all so conditioned to expect an immediate response,” she added.

While this most recent exchange was my children contacting me via cell phone,  there have been many times when they have been on the receiving line.  As a parent of a 12-year-old and a 15-year-old when I cannot get in touch with my children, when I believe I should be able to, I become anxious and nervous and start thinking of worst case scenarios.

 “You tend to think the worst,” says Moore of the inability to connect immediately.  “You also persist in calling.”

While most of us parents today remember the days without cell phones, our children do not.  Remember leaving messages on home answering machines or worse yet, getting a busy signal?!

“I think what it does, it tends to make our kids less patient,” says Moore. “I think it tends to make them anxious at times, depending on the circumstance.

“I think in some cases, if the kids are really depending on the parent to kind of always jump in and fix their problems, I think this ability to always connect certainly delays their development.”

What they found is that while some of this contact is important and necessary, too much of it can be detrimental to the development of healthy, well-adjusted adults.

According to Hofer’s research, “Students in the most contact with their parents, most frequent contact, those students were less autonomous than peers who were in less frequent contact,” explained Moore.

 Any way you look at, however, this constant contact is here to stay and we need to find ways to communicate that are beneficial to our family relationships.

When children are living at home, as my children are, contact is important but when children go away to college the lines tend to get blurred. How much communication is too much?

“The kids who are in a lot of contact with their parents, some of these kids actually had very mixed feelings about it,” Moore says she found in her reporting.  “They would look at their friends who were more independent and say ‘Why do I always feel like I have to check in with my mother. Why can’t I just do something myself without always having to have my decisions validated by my parents?’”

What Moore did find is that while moms traditionally have been the main communicators in the family, the advent of cell phones, and more specifically the ability to communicate via text messaging, has actually opened up the avenue of communication between dads and children.

“The texting allows dad to connect in a very easy way,” says Moore.  “In a nice way, with their kids,” she added.

“With the cell phone, if the dads are keeping it on, sometimes now they’re developing this different type of relationship with their child that they didn’t have (before they went to college),” Moore says. “So it’s nice.”

The bottom line is that the ability to be in constant contact is here to stay.  What parents and children need to do is find common ground and come to agreement on what is a comfortable amount of time to be in contact.

“In age appropriate ways you have to gradually loosen the reins a little bit, bit by bit and let your child grow,” says Moore.

Moore does stress, however, that loosening the reins does not mean letting go totally.  She says this is most important freshman year when most children are away from home for the first time.

“You have to let your kids set the pace, within reason,” concludes Moore.  “I think you really need to have a once a week call so you hear your child’s voice.  I think you can tell a lot from your kid’s voice or if you’re Skyping, their expression and how they look. “

Then there are the times in between, when a surprise, unexpected text arrives in your inbox.

“If your son wants to send you a photo or a quick little text or some little thing, I think that’s great,” says Moore.  “Those are real day brighteners!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Suzanne Zitser June 29, 2011 at 07:23 PM
This brought me back to my freshman year in college when after my parents left, I was so homesick. And you are talking about someone who went away to overnight camp, went across country on a teen trip, so this was clearly not my first separation from home. The calls to my mother were daily, "I want to come home this weekend". Not a very easy task when you are without a car and in upstate New York 4 hours from home . Although I did find someone from Connecticut with a car and came home for a few weekends in the beginning, because of the distance and also with my Mom's (the psychologist) encouragement to call rather than come home every weekend, I began to make new friends and got a better sense of myself and my new found freedom (sometimes not in a good way I must confess but not permanently damaging). So, Sarah, I think in this new high tech age a good balance is important.
Sarah Page Kyrcz June 30, 2011 at 02:12 AM
Suzanne ~ This constant contact with parents and college freshman brings me back to my days of hearing from my parents once a week via the payphone in the stairwell of my dorm. The phone would ring and hopefully someone would be walking by and hear it, they would yell for you and hopefully you would be in hearing range and you would talk right there in the stairwell for a very short time because from Connecticut to DC was a costly call. We all did alright, didn't we??
Jill Russo July 01, 2011 at 05:32 PM
I must say I don't recall calling home too often, but I do remember being homesick during the first months of college! I guess being the youngest of six taught me survival skills early on and I felt I had to prove to myself and family I could tough things out on my own! I find the constant barrage of texts, cell calls, etc to be quite anxiety provoking. Naturally, every time I decide not to take my cell with me while food shopping (remember when food shopping was a place to escape?) I get 15 messages as if the the house were on fire ~ the most urgent question being "Mom, where are you?" I make them wait! Absence makes the heart grow fonder!
Sarah Page Kyrcz July 01, 2011 at 10:35 PM
I just rode bikes with the girls to town, sans cell phone. While out my husband called Ana's cell looking for us and I came home to two missed calls, one voice mail and one text! I am trying to not be as reachable 24/7...we all need a rest from the barrage of communication ~ I think it is good for the body, mind and soul. Thanks for commenting, Jill!
Barbara Salzano July 06, 2011 at 12:29 PM
I've got a few more years before I face this issue, but right now I've got a young teen who needs to be "connected."

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