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Severing Parental Ties in the Smartphone Era Poses Challenges

"It’s time to cut the cord and let them work out issues of their own."

Like many parents of college-age kids, I loaded up the car Beverly Hillbillies-style with all of my son’s essentials; including a half-dozen cans of Old Spice spray, enough Mountain Dew to keep his entire dorm awake until winter break, an Animal House poster, and my son, and headed to Binghamton University for his sophomore year. 

This experience was a bit different for me this year. Last year, I was worried he would spend too much time at frat parties and too little time in the library. I was also worried how he would cope on his own because, as I have mentioned many times in various previous articles, he is not exactly the most self-reliant creature.

This year, move-in day was a whole new experience. Whereas last year he was very happy to let me help him unpack and make his bed (I know, but it was more for me than him), this year after our Target run for almost everything that isn’t clothes, he wouldn’t even let me help him carry the stuff up to his room. I believe he said, “I got it, Mom,” gave me a hug and started walking toward his dorm. I stood there kind of frozen thinking, “Who is this kid?”   

Just when I began to feel sad that he didn’t need me anymore, and wouldn’t see him until Thanksgiving, he turned around and said, “I’ll Skype with you this weekend!” and went on his way. Oh yeah, I forgot it isn’t 1982. 

If someone had told me then that we would be carrying around little phones that don’t need to be attached to a wall and talk to anyone, about anything, at almost anytime, I would have thought they had lost their mind. Kids walking around campus back then were either talking with whoever they were walking with or not talking (unless it was to themselves) because they were alone. Now everyone is doing something with their smartphone; talking, texting, checking Facebook to see if anyone put a picture of them passed out with their head in a toilet at a party, etc. 

Know what else they’re doing? They are communicating with their parents — a lot. I read a study recently that said kids, on average, communicate with their parents 13.4 times a week. The good part is we have close relationships with our kids. Honestly, when I went home on break, my father looked at me as if I was vaguely familiar, but he just couldn’t place me.

When I was in college, most kids talked to their parents maybe once a week. It just wasn’t possible to keep in constant contact so we had to figure things out on our own, and we did. We might have turned our clothes pink the first time we did laundry, but it taught us to separate colors from whites. Once I woke up 10 minutes before a final exam. I ran, in whatever I slept in, in snow and ice, all the way across campus. I actually don’t remember if I made it or not, but do remember the panic I was feeling. That was the day I began setting my alarm clock. 

We made mistakes, we learned, and moved on. I never even thought to call home and ask my dad what I should do when I couldn’t copy an article because the copy machine in the library was broken. A little parental support would have been nice. But now, kids can call home instantaneously and ask anything and, if we don’t help them, we feel like terrible parents.

But are we really doing them any favors by being on call 24/7? I don’t think so. Not surprisingly, the central finding in that study was that kids lack autonomy. Isn’t it our job to help them become independent so they can function as adults without our help? It’s time to cut the cord and let them work out issues of their own. Oh, and although it won’t be easy, listen more, problem-solve less and cut the calls down by at least half.

Palfan September 15, 2012 at 11:55 PM
So true! Thank you for giving me permission!
Jodie September 16, 2012 at 01:54 PM
I don't agree with you. I have always picked up the phone or responded to text messages from my kids. My son is now 29 and my daughter is 25 and they still call me all the time. I always share advice with them or listen to stories of their life or share mine. Don't ever close the communication off with your children.
Cats&Hogs October 30, 2012 at 01:02 PM
Couldn't agree more. These kids are so coddled today, they have instant access to anything & everything, so that life has become too easy. And, too easy is not always a good thing. They lose the sense of thinking a complete issue through; they can just "Google" it instead, let the smartphone figure it out for them. Some "tough love" is required from parents in this era, or they will never become the critical thinkers & problem solvers they will need to be on their own.
Jay Chapel October 30, 2012 at 02:42 PM
I worry about the method of "keeping in touch". Texting and Facebook are poor forms of communication. They deny people the ability to have some privacy, allow for rumors or lies to be circulated in moments, and disrupt face to face conversations. We shut down our son's smart phone for a few months and the changes were dramatic. Our daughter is next!

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