Staying in Touch Sep04

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Staying in Touch

•Staying in Touch/Letting Go•

You’ve heard the horror stories: Parents who text their college kids hourly or stalk them on Facebook, fixated on knowing their every waking move and thought. Or parents who all-too-frequently visit their kids at college, still do their laundry, and unabashedly email professors to complain about assignments or grades.

You don’t want to be that parent – you know you don’t. Seriously, you can stay in touch and still feel connected to your kid without getting crazy about it. It’s easier if you recognize that your relationship with them is shifting, evolving. Acknowledge the fact that they are doing exactly what you had hoped they would do–- become an interesting, educated, independent adult.

From the moment our kids are born, our lives are really all about letting go. Bit by bit, year by year. For the past 18 of those years, we’ve felt the magnetic push-pull of it all, sometimes on a daily (or hourly) basis. This current shift feels bigger because it is the end of an era; they are leaving the nest. But they will come back, for vacations and summers and visits in the many years to come – especially if we are people they want to come back to, loving parents who encourage them to grow and change in their own time (which, by nature, includes screwing up sometimes and figuring it all out again).

So — how much contact is good? How much is too much? No one can tell you precisely how many times a week you should call or text. There is no one-size-fits-all. You will come to the right formula on your own, by taking the lead from your student or discussing it with them at the beginning of the school year. Finding the right balance of staying in touch and letting go may take some trial and error and will no doubt entail suppressing the urge to call them every time you think of them.

In fact, not being in constant contact will help your kid put down roots at college and become more independent and self-assured. Not being there to help with every small problem or setback (or even just the ordinary things like doing laundry) will enable your kid to figure things out on their own – a very empowering experience. We’ve also learned that when we continually swoop in to save the day, it sends the message that we don’t think they are capable of handling the situation themselves, or that we don’t trust them. The only real way for our kids to learn how to deal with things is… by dealing with them!

But some parents experience the opposite problem – a child who initiates all the calls and texts, who wants to stay in constant contact for any number of reasons – homesickness, trouble acclimating to their new life at college, feeling a bit lonely. As much as you might like hearing from them, if you think your kid is avoiding the scary task of making new friends and getting involved in new activities, you may want to encourage a bit less contact. Be sensitive to their feelings of uncertainty and let them know you care, but remind them it takes time and effort to adjust to a new situation. If you think there is more to it, encourage your kid to seek out some of the resources on campus. Schools want kids to be happy at college and have many different programs in place to help ease the transition.

Staying in touch with your student is an important part of supporting them at college. Colleges encourage families to stay connected to their kids and claim that the most successful college students have supportive, involved parents (just not over-involved). One way to keep in touch is to set up a regular, weekly Skype date (KnowsyTips-Sunday Skype). And texting is perfect when you don’t want to interrupt them but have a question or just want to say hi. Email is great when you need to address a sensitive subject or fill them in on news from the neighborhood. But don’t expect an immediate response. They are busy and so are you, right?

We’re lucky. Our generation of parents has extremely close, loving relationships with our kids. In the book Generation on a Tightrope, about how college students have changed over the past decades, authors and academics Arthur Levine and Diane R. Dean found that today’s students are more connected to their parents than any previous generation in history – and, obviously, to technology and social media. A winning combination? A little too close for comfort? You decide.


Want to know more?

You’re On Your Own (But I’m Here If You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years, by Marjorie Savage

Letting Go: A Parent’s Guide to Understanding the College Years by Karen Levin Coburn

I’ll Miss You Too: An Off-to-College Guide for Parents and Students by Margo E. Woodacre

Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Students by Arthur Levine and Diane R. Dean

6 Ways Families Can Stay in Touch Through College, by Julie & Lindsey Mayfield (U.S. News)



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