“I know that things are going well when I don’t hear from my daughter. ” – Mother of two college students
When I recently spoke with the parents of new students at Southern New Hampshire University during the wrap-up to new student orientation, I offered a simple recommendation: “Knowing that you will probably want to talk on the phone before you even get out of the parking lot outside this building, I offer you a challenge: How about waiting for them to call you?”
When I went to college, I don’t know that I spoke to my own parents before a couple of weeks went by, but parents are much more involved today than they were a generation ago, and not only that but cell and smart phones provide so many more options in communicating with phone calls and texting.
In her book Nation of Wimps, Hana Marano argues that cell phones “weaken the power of place-based institutions to penetrate the minds of the young and to affect their behavior.” Before the cell phone, students had to work a lot of things out on their own. Say you got a bad grade on a test. First, you had to sit with it a while. You might go through a phase where you kept it to yourself. Then you might have sidled up to a peer and asked, “I bombed on this thing. How did you do?” Then you might have mustered up enough nerve to see your professor during his or her office hours. This progression was an important rite of passage for all college students. They had to work it out. Today, not only do many students in this same predicament by-pass all of the above in favor of a call home to Mom, they may well be on that call before they have even gotten outside of classroom building.
Marano observes that at the turn of the century about 38% of college kids had cell phones. Today, well, do you know a college kid without one? College is supposed to be a dramatic plunge into a new and unfamiliar world. The lessons learned as a result of fighting to the surface are lifelong. It’s hard to plunge into a new world if you stay tethered to your old and familiar one. And that can be a problem with cell phones, computers, Facebook, etc.
Marano laments that the cell phone impedes personal and psychological development because it “provides an excuse for first-year students not to have to get out and make new friends and new connections on campus.” As a result, “socialization is restricted to comfortable old networks. You never have to learn how to get along with others or – God forbid – learn from others.”
So, wait for their call. Sure, you’ll want to talk. And you will. But hold back a bit, especially in the early going, and give them the chance to be pioneers as they blaze a new trail and settle into a new home in a new, unfamiliar world.
Onward, Malcolm Gauld