Cell phones help students and parents stay close—Sometimes too close
by Amy Trang | © Washington State University
Michael Johnston ('08 Bus. Admin.) switched his cell-phone plan in October. And the incentive wasn't just the free, high-tech phone or the low text-messaging fees.
"I can get those mobile-to-mobile minutes with my family now," says Johnston. "Now I don't have to worry as much about the minutes I use with them."
Johnston says he talks to either his mom or dad each day, for at least 15 to 20 minutes.
He's not the only one. He's part of the millennial generation for whom there is no typical, mandatory Sunday evening phone call home.
Now parents are getting the 9 a.m. Saturday call, the 2:55 p.m. Thursday call, and even the 2 a.m. "I-just-came-back-from-a-party" call.
With cell phones, text messaging, e-mail, and other high-tech gadgets and services, getting in touch has become simpler and faster.
"I talk to my parents every day," says Victoria Ringoen ('02 Hum. Dev.). "I'm really close with both of them."
Friends Jacklyn Stricherz ('08 Ed.) and Rachel Torell ('08 Hum. Dev.) also talk to their parents almost daily. They say conversation topics don't have to include classes. It's more about "checking in."
"It's not always about grades," Torell says. "It's just 'how's it going?' or 'what's new?' They like to know about exams, and I'll tell them how I did, but they are not asking for my GPA."
"I see my mom and dad as friends," Stricherz says. "It should be that way. We're not at the age where they would get mad at us now. It's more of a friendship thing."
However, some parents, say higher education administrators, do a little more than just "check up." Some have been known to yell at professors over the cell phone about a child's bad grade, or even to come to campus for the sole purpose of cleaning their child's dorm room.
Overinvolved or "hovering" parents could be preventing their children from achieving more, says Barbara E. M. Hammond, director of counseling and testing services.
"It used to be that 40 years ago, universities . . . acted as parents for the students, because it was hard to maintain contact," Hammond says. "Now, parents are involved with their kids more at all stages of education."
Terese King, director of New Student Programs, says although immediate technologies like cell phones are good, the parental involvement resulting from them has become intrusive at times.
"Many parents are calling on behalf of their students on things that the students should be dealing with themselves," King says. "It's one of the greatest harms, because then the child becomes sheltered and is unable to make decisions or take responsibility for himself."
King says she has seen some parents do everything for their children, including yelling at their child's roommate over the phone.
Hammond worries that such parental intrusiveness inhibits the growth of independence and autonomy among students.
"The main drawback is that people learn by being challenged to deal with new things independently and gain confidence from it," Hammond says. "It's possible that you won't have that level of confidence if someone always does something for you."
Rodney White '08 says his parents are the antithesis of those who hover. He says his relationship with his parents has been stronger since he's gone to college, because they now treat him as an independent person. Once a week, he talks to them about his problems, which is more than he did in high school.
"We talk about family," he says. "They like to know how I'm doing and also if I need anything."
Johnston was close to his family before he left for college, and cell phones have made it easier to keep that bond, he says.
"I don't picture our conversation being a check-up thing," he says. "I tell them what I want to tell them. They never criticize me on what's going on. They don't poke into my business. They won't dive into anything that I won't talk about."
Michael's mom, Michelle Johnston, says she talks to each of her children daily on the cell phone for at least 10 minutes.
"They call me more often, because I'm not sure of class times and what not," she says. "It's about 75 percent them calling me, and 25 percent of the time I call them."
Michelle says she likes to know what's going on in her children's lives, but doesn't pry.
"They usually volunteer information," she says. "They keep me pretty informed about everything. Sometimes a little too much."
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