No student headed to college wants to be a kid anymore. Yet, you might get caught between your teens and adulthood if you aren’t mindful of the way you communicate with your parents when you start college life.
Cell phones, e-mail, Skype and social media sites make it easy for you to talk with your parents just like you did during high school. But even though technology enables you to keep giving them daily life updates, it may not be advisable.
Before instant communication was available, college students typically called home once a week, often on Sunday night from the dorm phone. Today, with cell phones and computers, families communicate more than 13 times per week.
Dr. Barbara Hofer, a psychology professor at Middlebury College, and journalist Abigail Sullivan Moore reported these statistics in their book, The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up, released last fall. Hofer and Moore’s research shows that it’s not just parents making all the calls.
College students—freshmen and seniors alike—are initiating the contact with their families. While this frequent communication produces positive effects, like keeping families close, it can also negatively affect your college life experience. If you spend a lot of your free time chatting with your parents, you’ll have less time to find new friends and learn about activities on campus. In addition, you might be more inclined to get help on an assignment or complain about an irritating roommate when it’s really time for you to handle those situations yourself. Furthermore, college students who have the most frequent contact with their parents are the least independent students, Hofer says.
In college, you learn to take on new responsibilities like doing laundry and managing your studies. You have to decide what clubs you’ll join and what your major will be. If you stay in constant contact with your parents, you’re likely to depend on them to help you with these new challenges in your life. But thinking through these situations without your parents’ assistance is exactly how you become an adult who is ready for life after college.If you have a problem or a decision to make, Hofer says, “Don’t assume that the first person who should hear about it is your mom.” Instead, she recommends that students try thinking about what they can do on their own before they involve their parents.
Conveniently, most colleges provide resources to help you through this transition. You’ll have an academic advisor, resident assistant (RA) if you live in a dorm, teaching assistants (TAs) in many of your classes, professors, deans and probably a writing, counseling and health center. These people are trained to help you with all of college life’s demands and know how to help you make informed choices.
“Find the college resources that will help you. Because in the long run, you’ll be a better adult if you know how to take care of these sorts of things on your own and you know how to get the help that you need,” Hofer says.
Consider speaking with your parents before you leave home about how often you want to communicate. Hofer suggests beginning that conversation by saying, “I read about communicating during college, and it sounds like too much of it might not be good.” Ask your parents how much they think you should talk. Perhaps agree to call home on Sunday night if you’ve gone the whole week without talking to your parents. After your first semester, have another conversation about how your communication patterns are working for both of you.
Hofer doesn’t recommend a certain number of calls for families or designate subjects that are off-limits between parents and students. Communicating during college isn’t about learning to cut ties with each other. With today’s technology, that’s hardly possible. Rather, it’s about figuring out how to become independent while staying really connected to your parents.
When and where to find help on campus
Having roommate troubles --> Your dorm’s RA
Unhappy with an exam grade --> Your professor or TA
Trying to pick next semester’s classes --> Your academic advisor
Not sure if the relationship with your boyfriend at another college is working --> One of your friends who is having the same problem
Writing a paper that needs editing --> Your school’s writing center or a peer tutor
Jessica Lymberopoulos is a freelance writer based in Houston, Tex. She graduated from Lee University (www.leeuniversity.edu)) in 2010 with a degree in English.