Technology hinders student-family independence


Last week I lugged three laundry carts full of my belongings up the front steps of my dorm and down the hall to the room that would become my home for the next few months. I was accompanied by my immediate family, all of us sweating in the Texas heat and trying to beat the move-in crowd to the college hot spots.

Sweat quickly turned to tears as we said our goodbyes and they drove away into the sunset, not to be seen again for many long months. I went back to my dorm to enjoy my newfound freedom and bask in the glory of college life.

At least that’s how it was supposed to work. In reality, no sooner did my parents get home than I had an e-mail from my mom asking if I’d finished this essay and those applications, and telling me that she was there to help me if I needed it.

For many students, especially freshmen, this is a common occurrence as both students and their parents struggle to come to terms with their new place in each other’s lives.

With access to more kinds of communication technology than ever before, some parents are overstepping their boundaries and taking their child’s educational well-being into their own hands. A 2008 study by Middlebury College psychology professor Barbara Hofer found that the average college student contacts his or her home 13 times per week, mostly via cell phone calls, text messages and e-mails.

This much contact can not only be an enabler for so-called “helicopter parents,’ but can also be extremely detrimental to the growth and development of college students who, in the past, traditionally used their college years to become fully independent of their families.

Students who once asked for help and advice from professors, Resident Assistants and friends now turn to more tried and true sources: their parents. Rather than calling to say “hi’ and let families know how their college experience is going, many students compulsively call or text home for simple matters such as advice on laundry or the best way to cook Ramen noodles. Some even e-mail their class papers home to be proofread.

All this contact adds up. When students have easy access to parents about the little things, independent decision making ceases and students begin to head straight for the comfort of home every time they are stressed or upset.

The distinction between what constitutes a valid reason to phone home versus what is a simple whim is something that both parents and students need to learn. If a student is constantly calling home for advice, parents can wish them luck and turn them back to the problem, perhaps following up the next time their child calls home.

“Staying close is different than being dependent,” Hofer said in a Chicago Tribune article titled “Are students, parents too connected?”.

The issue comes when parents enter “regulatory’ mode8212; reminding students of assignments and contacting the school’s office with questions in place of their children, as well as talking students through conflicts with friends or professors. Admittedly, parental support can be calming, even helpful, in times of crisis. But a mishap with your laundry that causes all your whites to become a shade of neon pink isn’t a crisis. It’s a life lesson.

And, after all, isn’t that what college is about?

Danika Scevers is a freshman pre-major from Abilene.