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The Electronic Umbilical Cord

texting_on_m1082022Remember your college days when on Sunday nights you called home? Except for health or money emergencies that was the extent of your contact with the parents: once a week.

Not anymore. First it was cell phones and now texting and BlackBerry messaging have replaced that weekly call…and replaced it and replaced it.

Texting has become an  “electronic tether,” according to Middlebury College Psychology Prof. Barbara Hofer.  In a study she conducted at Middlebury College and the University of Michigan Prof. Hofer found that college students text, phone and email their parents an average of 13 times a week.

While parents may be delighted to hear so often from their adult children, Prof. Hoffer finds that all that electronic handholding  often counterproductive, especially for college freshmen.  The first year is the time when they should be learning to make their own decisions about such pressing matters as roommates and laundry and what classes to take, not constantly texting mom to find out what she thinks. .

Apparently texting parents does not end after the student makes it successfully through freshman year.  A recent class discussion among NYU juniors and seniors got lively when the topic of texting came up.  Many students admitted that they text and talk to parents—mostly moms—several times a day. What do they text about?

“My mother texts all the time asking questions like ‘Did you go to the gym today?’”

“My mom texts just to see what I am doing.”

“If I don’t answer the cell phone my mom texts to see if I am okay.”

So is all this texting a good thing or bad? The students were unsure, and were resigned that there was no way to stop parents texting short of turning off the phone–and they certainly weren’t going to do that! Several students preferred texting to talking on their phones as it was less intrusive and took less time.

Of course texting doesn’t end at college graduation.  Many of us have found that our adult children don’t check the voice mail on their cell phones. (Forget land lines, they don’t have them.) So we are forced to text them just to stay in contact.

And surprise, they actually do answer, usually right away.  I suspect one reasons adult children, in particular sons, readily reply is that no one knows they are texting you.  He could be texting a friend or girl for all anyone knows.  Girls are more likely to admit “It’s my mother again,” accompanied, not too often we hope, with a roll of the eyes.

{ 1 comment… add one }

  • Walt October 15, 2009, 11:41 am

    I am a stay-at-home father and have been so for nearly 20 years. The so called “electronic tether” is an inexpensive way of communicating with adult children without the need to talk to them every day. I have triplet boys, all away at college and they make the majority of their decisions on their own. Texting is a simple way of reassuring parents that things are tolerable. We want them to have a good college experience without interference. There comes a time when trust has to over ride suspicion.

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