A thought about independence

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Registered: 10-16-1999
A thought about independence
Mon, 08-16-2010 - 10:29pm

I stumbled upon this article on the AARP (ugh! Yes, I'm old enough for them! :( ) website tonight, and it got me to thinking... parents of 16, 17 and 18 y/os often complain about them wanting to do things their own way, to run their own lives, to not involve parents in their day to day lives. But maybe that is a good thing when not taken to extreme?

Are students, parents too connected?

from: Chicago Tribune | August 5, 2010

Angie Leventis Lourgos

Aug. 5, 2010 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- Nineteen-year-old Taylor Matichak calls her mom several times a day, in between the flurry of text messages they send one another discussing academics, social life or just daily chit-chat.

Though the sophomore at the University of Missouri in Columbia spends most of the year more than 300 miles from her family's Plainfield home, the distance seems to evaporate with technology.

"I like it because we can stay close," said the teen, who says she initiates most of the calls and texts.

It's profoundly different from the college days of her mother, Debbie Matichak, 52, who remembers waiting in long lines at her dormitory pay phone to make the obligatory Sunday collect call home.

Keeping in touch with parents was more expensive and time-consuming when she attended the University of Denver three decades ago. But as college students prepare to descend on campuses in the coming weeks, many will find that with the ease of cell phones, unlimited text message plans, e-mail, , and Skype, they can have near-constant access to mom and dad.

"It's changed the experience of being away at college," said James Boyle, president of College Parents of America, based in Arlington, Va. "A generation ago, when your parents said goodbye and drove away, many (students) didn't see their parents again until Thanksgiving."

But some experts fear this communication shift could hamper the independence of older teens at a time when they traditionally come into their own.

"Sometimes these students are not being as autonomous or self-sufficient as they should be," said Barbara Hofer, psychology professor at Middlebury College in Vermont and co-author of the book "The iConnected Parent."

"Staying close is different than being dependent," she said.

Her 2008 study of students at Middlebury and the University of Michigan found that students on average contacted their parents 13 times a week, mainly via cell phone calls and e-mails, though text messaging and Skype seem to be growing in popularity.

This is a marked shift from the students' parents, who reported calling home about once a week when in college, making calls that were often three minutes long or less because the costs were so high.

Much of the change stems from the rising use of technology among all age groups. A Pew Research Center survey this year found 40 percent of adults use the Internet, e-mail or instant messaging, up from 32 percent in 2009. Seventy-two percent of adults reported sending or receiving text messages compared with 65 percent last year. Data also show that roughly three-quarters of 12-to-17-year-olds own cell phones compared with 45 percent in 2004.

Hofer said problems arise when these electronic conversations enter "regulatory" territory: Parents reminding their student about assignments, making course schedule decisions, monitoring posts on Facebook or telling the child how to handle basic conundrums of life, from questions about washing machine settings to trouble with professors.

The immediacy of today's technology can also chip away at self-reliance, Hofer said. Hofer found that students often go straight to their parents in the midst of a crisis rather than figuring out solutions or handling the emotional fallout on their own.

Another problem dips into academic dishonesty: Hofer said one in five students reported having their parents edit their papers online, a practice that might violate the honor codes of many colleges and universities. While helping a child with a paper at the kitchen table in junior high or high school might be appropriate, sending a paper back and forth for editing can amount to the parent doing all the work, which means the student isn't learning to do it alone, Hofer said.

She recommends parents shift conversations to helping students learn how to make the decision or solve the problem rather than giving answers, a practice that must start when the student is an adolescent living at home.

Winnetka parent Deb Guy, 55, said it takes discipline to structure communication appropriately because it's so easy for teens or parents to make a quick phone call. She sees a lot of parents making decisions for their teens or young adults, and agrees that separation needs to start earlier than the day a child is sent to college.

"(Parents) want to be there, but they need to let go," she said. "They need to send their child back to the problem."

It might sound counterintuitive, but Guy said one of her most gratifying times as a parent stemmed from lack of communication with her daughter Madalyn Guy, who was 19 last semester and studying in Rome without access to a cell phone. Madalyn had to navigate a foreign city, choose her courses -- even go to the emergency room -- without her mother's help.

Deb Guy found the lack of communication unnerving at first. But when she visited Madalyn abroad, she was proud to watch as her daughter took charge and made plans, as an adult would.

"She made every decision on her own, and I saw the value of that," she said.

While technology has undoubtedly increased contact between parents and college students, Boyle cautions against overgeneralizations about whether this is a positive or negative trend because each student's needs are different. While he sees a danger in mixing "helicopter parenting" with the array of electronics available today, he can also see that more contact with parents might be helpful if a student is going through a tough time.

"It's certainly better than the alternative, which is no communication at all," Boyle said. "There's a valid role for parents to play in terms of a support system."

But he does wonder if the onslaught of technology might be replacing quality communication with quantity. Boyle still has a box of letters his mother, who since passed away, sent him when he was a student at Northwestern University. He wonders if she would have written if they could have had a quick phone or text conversation as he walked to class along Sheridan Road.

As for the Matichaks, they disagree with the premise that more contact hinders a students' autonomy. Taylor Matichak says she's very independent: She might ask her mom's opinion about her coursework or class schedule, but that's just guidance she can accept or reject.

They also keep certain boundaries. While they might text and call one another, they don't e-mail and they're not friends on Facebook, a medium they both believe should be reserved for Taylor Matichak and her peers.

Debbie Matichak, who wishes she had more communication with her parents during college, says she just likes to check in and know that Taylor's all right.

"I can help reinforce the decisions that she's making," she said. "I know that she's OK, even though she's five hours away."


Newstex ID: KRTB-0197-47616780

iVillage Member
Registered: 10-16-1999
Mon, 08-16-2010 - 10:47pm

Along this same line... I often find myself thinking of my adult children as "the kids"... and sometimes almost expect them to respond to things much as they would have in high school, or question if they're able to handle adult responsibilities. This past weekend, the oldest and the youngest of the bunch really stepped up to the plate in a way that made me realize they are more than "the kids" these days... they are capable adults (even the 19 y/o) and I really won't need to worry about their ability to take care of me and DH (in about 40 yrs!)... they already are perfectly capable of stepping up to the plate in a crisis - even the 19 y/o.

Hubby is deathly allergic to bees, has been for a very long time. It's been a well known fact in our family that he needs to get to the ER within about 15 minutes of being stung, even if he has his epi-pen, or things could go very badly, very quickly. One of our sons actually drove his dad about 5 miles to the ER when he was barely 15 y/o... terrified the whole way of what would happen if he was stopped by the police. This past weekend he was stung while working alone at his father's now unoccupied farm. He called me as well as our 19 y/o SIL. All I could hear/understand was "a mess of bees" and all T heard was "help." I immediately started shaking and got a little panicked, knowing that he was alone, 15 minutes from us, and 30 minutes from the nearest hospital. Between DS S (26 y/o) and SIL-wannabe T (19 y/o)... they sprang into action, took charge, and headed out to the farm to find DH. Instead of the 15 minutes it normally takes to get to the farm, the guys made it in under 10 (don't want to think about how they were driving), got DH into the truck and headed back to town. DD (19 y/o) insisted that I couldn't drive to the farm (I really couldn't), she called 911 and took me to the hospital to meet the ambulance when they brought DH in. She's the one who found the insurance card in my wallet, and DS was the one to talk to the doctors with me (he does have level 1 EMT training).

I suppose this is something of a mama brag... I am so proud of "the kids" and the way they pulled together and came through. Normally they defer to me and DH (or at least tell us what we want to hear!), but this time they were fully functioning adults, in charge and authoritive. Not sure when they grew into that from the somewhat airheaded teens they used to be, but I think my job raising them is done. They'll be ok.

The good news is, DH only spent a couple of hours in the ER, and is fine today. However, he's supposed to see an allergist now, his reactions get worse every time he's stung, this was by far the worst we've seen. NOW, if I can convince HIM that he needs to see an allergist! UGH!!

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-28-1999
Mon, 08-16-2010 - 11:11pm

It's good that the bee sting problem turned out ok.

I am definitely not one of those parents who is always in touch w/ their college age kid--my DD hardly ever calls me. When I figure out that it's been a week & I haven't heard from her I try to track her down & find out what's been going on. But I have noticed that w/ texting, it's easy for her to send me a quick text in between classes, so that's a nice way to keep in touch. My 1st 2 yrs of college I only had the pay phone in the hall of my dorm so I can understand that--I wrote a lot of letters to my friends but never to my parents.

Avatar for suzyk2118
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-30-1997
Tue, 08-17-2010 - 8:30am

Yikes on the bee thing - my BIL is like that too - once gave himself the injection and drove to the hospital due to being alone, and was ok, but very scary.

Tomorrow we drop ds18 off - I guess we'll see where we fall after a bit.

iVillage Member
Registered: 11-07-2004
Wed, 08-18-2010 - 6:30am

He and I 'text' - I do it via my computer at work or home (still no cell; I'm a holdout!).

Avatar for suzyk2118
iVillage Member
Registered: 07-30-1997
Wed, 08-18-2010 - 7:07am
Yes, I heard that too - but honestly he's talking about being home every weekend!
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Registered: 04-13-2010
Wed, 08-18-2010 - 12:50pm

I have to admit it is a bit difficult letting go! My oldest turned 18 yesterday, and after we had the family dinner/party, my son also had his own plans with friends. While I realize that he is old enough to make his own choices of where he is going, who he goes with and what he will be doing, I still worry!! Ds left last night around 9ish and it is nearing lunch time, and he is still not home. No phone calls, although we told him to call if he needed us, or a ride for any reason.

While he still relies on us for advice, help and still lives at home, I have a feeling that we will not be one of those parent/child relationships where we keep in constant contact.

I am happy that he is independent, but part of me misses when he was younger (just a bit!)