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For Better or Worse, Technology Gives College Kids Easy Access to Home

Does that take away from their independence, or is it a good thing that we're all so chatty with each other?

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 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 that I 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 could 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 smart phone: 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.

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 ten 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.

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. Now we are on call 24/7, but are we really helping our kids? Next week I will further explore this topic and its implications.

 About this column: Susan Schaefer, director and founder of Academic Coaching Associates, is an academic coach, student advocate, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com. You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1

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