When children head off to college how much contact should parents have with them?
This question has generated a lot of angst over the years and maybe it's because nobody knows how much communication is appropriate. Is one call a week enough? How about a dozen? Do text messages and E-mails count? And what about Skype, instant messaging, and Facebook?
[Read 5 Social Media Tools for College Students.]
Obviously, there is no right answer. Even in the same household, kids and parents are going to keep in touch differently.
In my family, for instance, my daughter, who is a college senior, typically calls about five to six times a week. When I turn my computer on in the morning, I often see a cheery E-mail from her. Caitlin manages to keep in touch even though she's got daily practices on her varsity soccer team, an internship, and a job at her college while she's carrying a full load as a Spanish major. My son, who is a college freshman, calls about once a week. It's a cause for celebration if the conversation lasts more than 10 minutes.
For those who are wondering what's the right amount of contact with their college students—and why it matters—two experts have weighed in with a new book, The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up. The authors are Barbara K. Hofer, a psychology professor at Middlebury College, and Abigail Sullivan Moore, a New York Times contributor.
In this age of instant communications, here are some of the authors' tips for parents about staying in touch:
Let students initiate the calls. Or at least most of them. The authors concluded that students, who reported that their parents were making most of the calls, were the least happy.
Send care packages. Don't let phone calls and E-mails replace the traditional way that parents used to connect: through letters and care packages. One of the rare calls that we got from our son Ben during his first month of school was to request a care package of salt water taffy, Blow Pops, ping pong balls, and dried chili mangos.
Include dads. Research has suggested that many students, and especially daughters, would like more contact with their fathers. Since moms appear to get more of the calls, they should be the ones trying to get dads to connect more.
Skip Facebook. Parents should resist the urge to initiate Facebook friend requests with their children. For parents who have access to their college students' Facebook, it can be awfully tempting to snoop.
Respond appropriately to venting. Just because your child is venting about a roommate from hell, a lousy professor, or crummy dorm food doesn't mean you have to get riled up too. And don't assume that you need to jump in with solutions. It's hard for a student to become an adult if you are always providing the answers.
Be a great listener. Be in the moment. Give your child space to think out loud and come up with his or her own solutions to problems.
Don't be a nag. I admit I was guilty of being a nag when my son was in high school. I'd pester him about reading, starting his college applications, and studying for the SAT. I'm proud to report, however, that since he left for college in August, I haven't nagged him at all. I know he appreciates it and I feel much better about our relationship.