Communicating with the modern college student

With three weeks until C-Day, I’ve been thinking about how we’ll communicate with our daughter once she is away at College. With today’s broad range of technology and its equally broad range of parenting styles, the options are wide open.

I know one couple who made an agreement with their son to talk by phone once a week. Well, more often than not, the appointed day of the week would pass without a call. Maybe two weeks would pass. Maybe three weeks. They’d call, not get answers. The mom was not, shall we say, pleased. Eventually their son did a study-abroad unit in the wilds of South America and they didn’t talk to him for months.

Then I have another friend who texted with her daughter multiple times a day. This was mutual, not just a hovering helicopter mom. Daughter would text mom on a regular basis about her classes, how she was feeling, whether to buy the grey or blue sweater, etc.

I’ve been trying to recall how I communicated with my parents in college, and can’t remember anything at all. This was long before the era of cell phones and texting, so it would have been by land line or snail mail. Were there telephones in our dorm rooms? Or pay phones in the halls? I can’t remember one way or the other.

I doubt I told my parents much about what I was doing as a freshman at college. The conversations were probably more like, “How are your classes going?” “Fine.” “How are you getting along with your roommate?” “Fine.”

But somehow I’m hoping for more from Daughter. Maybe I’m just an over-involved 21st century yuppie parent. Maybe I’m used to having at least a partial sense of what she’s doing in school and with her friends. (For a teenager, she’s been pretty communicative.) Or maybe when you’re looking at tuition and room/board costs that top $60,000, you feel like you deserve something more than “Fine” every two or three weeks.

The other day I mentioned the parent-child communication examples that I describe above. I had barely uttered the words “call once a week” when Daughter’s eyes widened and she emitted a loud “Noooooo!”

It felt  like the sound someone would make in a horror movie when the alien predator that they had assumed was lying dead in a pool of goo suddenly recomposes itself and resumes its attack.

This feeds my suspicion that, with this generation, texting multiple times a day is less intrusive or threatening than a weekly phone call.

It will be interesting to see what we manage to work out.

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8 Responses to “Communicating with the modern college student”

  1. Melissa Says:

    I remember the scene when I was in college, 40 some years ago. There were pay phones in the hallways, and I don’t remember ever calling my parents except when I needed something (i.e. money). For my junior year I went abroad, for an entire year (school year followed by a summer of travel). No cell phones, no e-mail, no Skype, and long-distance calling was prohibitively expensive. So basically, we did not talk for an entire year, though we did exchange letters (which took a week or more to arrive.) I was 20; I did not feel the urge to chat with my mother. My own daughter finds this completely inconceivable…Is it just the availability of easy communication, or are the ties stronger?

  2. johnroark Says:

    I remember communicating with my parents when I was at school maybe 2 or 3 times per year at most, mainly by phone. We communicate a lot more with Mollie when she’s away. Probably several times most weeks. Just casual chatting on Facebook and other chat venues. We are all on line a fair amount, so it just happens. It’s not hugely different than when they are here. Combination of easier to use social media, general differences in family structure now vs then and also specific issues having to do with my own personality and my relationship with my parents. But the fact that we all use social media makes a huge difference.

  3. Linda K. Wertheimer (@Lindakwert) Says:

    LOL on this one, Ilana. I have several friends and relatives about to enter this realm with you. I just have a 4-year-old, but I remember well how my parents and I communicated. Once a week, Saturday mornings, phone call. I think my mother usually made the call. I sometimes called in between if I had some kind of mini-crisis, but that was only during my freshman year, I think. After that, I prided myself on my growing independence. But I admit, I liked the weekly calls.

  4. nankiber Says:

    I think I had a regular Sunday call with my folks–Bob remembers having the same. We chat with Danny on Facebook, pretty regularly–by far the easiest way to reach him, and vv.

  5. Christina Baglivi Tinglof Says:

    I remember a phone on the wall in my dorm room and a call from my parents every Saturday morning precisely at 9 am. My son is at camp on Catalina Island now–no cell service. It’s killing me! I’m not even sure if the boat made it there ok! I called my Dad the other day and asked him how he survived not knowing where I was and what I was doing way back when. And then I apologized for not being more communicative when I was traveling around the country/world.

  6. Wendy Says:

    I hear your dilemma. My son typically doesn’t want to communicate with me (the mom) for anything except for money and using the car. For a long time my son did not have texting on his phone. Then a friend told me that she got texting with her son and she found that she communicated more frequently with him that way. That was true for me. Another friend advised me to set up once a week time to communicate, set up an agreement to answer emails in 24 hours, and visit at least once during the semester (may not be possible for you). My son (who is fledging finally and off to Southern California) can’t wait to use FaceTime (on his phone and laptop) with me–now that he’s found out he can do this as well as message me on my iPad. I say, whatever works!

  7. Anna Mindess Says:

    I have one word for you, Ilana: Skype! What a blessing! You can see stuff with your own eyes and it’s more like having a real chat. My daughter is going into her 3rd year of college in Canada. We never had a set schedule. She seems to initiate it often when she wants to show us something (an art project, new sweater or the first snowfall outside of her window). Or if we hadn’t heard from her in a while, we email “let’s skype soon.” Now she’s working at summer camp and we only have email. I miss seeing her in her environment. Love that skype!

  8. Janice Dean Says:

    You’re assessment that texting is less intrusive for us Millennials is spot-on! But that assumes Boomers have good texting etiquette because poor texting etiquette can feel as uncomfortable to me as a phone call. I have finally, for example, convinced my mother-in-law that I cannot spend 30 minutes chatting with her on the phone while I’m at work (it only took 4 years); however, she doesn’t have a great phone for texting so I often get repeat or typo-filled texts, or texts with content that makes me wonder, why did you text me that? I agree with all of the above advice in that it points to the one sure thing: this is a very individual thing. My sister talks to my mom on the phone at least once a day. I talk to my mom on the phone…maybe once every couple of months. But, now that Mom has started to text, I sometimes send her multiple messages a day. Show Daughter not only that you care but also that you respect her, and you’ll be all right.

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