To Text or Not to Text?

One of the hardest things about sending our children off to college is the loss of daily contact.

If you and your student text or talk every day, you may not need to read any further. For the rest of us, it’s normal sometimes to be anxious, sad or frustrated by the silence that can stretch between us.

“The hardest part of Dylan’s first year was not knowing what he was up to,” Eileen remembered. “What did he have for dinner? What are his friends like?” If she made a mistake initially, it was trying to check in with him all the time — “but I got over that!” She started to relax when she realized he was figuring things out on his own. The minimal communication was a mark of his growing independence.

How do you determine the right amount of contact? Beth in California said, “I don’t want to hover, but I want them to know that I care and want to know how they’re doing. With two very independent sons, I initiate most of the contact.”

What about when the call finally comes and the person on the other end of the phone is in tears? “The transition to college life can be challenging, bumpy and overwhelming,” Sarah observed. “Because of the ease of electronic communications, you may get some frantic or upset phone calls.”

Her advice: “Don’t panic, don’t over-advise, don’t overreact. The best thing to do is to listen, and if you must ask questions, make them open-ended. ‘How are you going to handle that? What do you think you will do?’” It took time but she got the hang of not always believing everything she was told. “Sometimes they just need to vent.”

Communication tips from experienced college parents:

  • “Set a time frame for calling them,” Amy recommended. “It may not be as often as you like, but this way it’s more likely to happen.”
  • Remember that no news is usually good news. “When my son needed emotional support or
    had urgent questions, he called right away,” Laura said.
  • “A single ‘yup’ as a text reply to a longer communication is not a bad sign,” Pamela observed.
  • Care packages and letters from home are a way to reach out with no strings attached.
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Diane Schwemm is a writer and editor at CollegiateParent. Before raising three sons (now in their teens and 20’s), she earned an M.A. in English at the University of Chicago and wrote Young Adult series fiction. In her free time she likes to read, bike, garden, hike in the Colorado foothills and mountains, and be with friends and family.