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When to Cut the Cord with Your College Student

According to one study, students communicate with their parents an average of 13.4 times per week.

It’s been a couple of weeks since you dropped your kid off at school, or the airport, depending on how far away from you they wanted to get. How’s it going so far? Are you still texting, Skyping, or calling twice a day? I caught you, didn’t I? 

No, I don’t have a hidden camera set up in your house, but I do have my own kid and I talk to other parents of college kids. I also read a study by Barbara K. Hoffer published in The Bulletin. According to this study, students communicate with their parents, on average, 13.4 times a week.

Some students were fine with and actually initiate this high frequency communication, but others not so much. It seems obvious that all this immediate communication may not be such a good thing for students. They are not developing independent life skills because they can call their parents to help solve every little issue, including what to do if they don’t understand an assignment, dealing with a roommate who snores like a freight train, etc.

Not surprisingly, the central finding of the study was, “students with the most frequent parental contact were the least autonomous.” This was true in academics, as well as emotional autonomy. Also, parents who “regulate” their child, such as editing essays, waking them up on exam days, and basically just calling their kids a lot to remind them to do the things they should be doing to get through their day, aren’t doing them any favors.

I recently heard about a mom who is so concerned that her son is eating right that she regularly delivers homemade nutritious meals to his off-campus apartment. Is it surprising that these kids do not develop an independent bone in their bodies?

I find it very interesting that kids can figure certain things out, like how to get a fake ID, how to buy used books on the university Facebook page so they can pocket the money they saved, and developing the most efficient strategy for hitting a dozen parties on Saturday night while still making it to Denny’s at 4 a.m. Yet, they still have to call home to figure out how to get an Advil at the campus health center.

The best way for parents to help is to teach kids to be independent and self-reliant. So, instead of editing their papers, help them find on-campus resources such as writing centers to teach them to do it on their own.  Instead of giving them a wake up call on exam days, get them an alarm clock. It’s time to cut the cord and let them work out issues on their own. Oh, and although it won’t be easy, listen more, problem-solve less and cut the calls down by at least half.

About this column: Susan Schaefer, director and founder of Academic Coaching Associates, is an academic coach, student advocate, and certified teacher. We encourage you to visit her website: Academic Coaching Associates. You may email Sue at susan.schaefer@academiccoachingct.com. You can also follow Sue on twitter: @sueschaefer1

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