Back when I was in college, keeping in touch with the folks meant hearing the dorm’s one phone ringing for five minutes before someone finally answered the line, pounded on my door, and shouted, “It’s for you!” Thanks to cell phones and computers, these days it’s much easier to keep in touch with our college-bound kids. Indeed, according to a survey conducted by College Parents of America, 74 percent of us communicate at least two to three times a week with our sons and daughters while they’re away at college, while 34 percent of us are in daily communication.
Of course, constant communication isn’t the same as enriching and satisfying communication. You need to know when and how to reach out, and here are five tips to help you on your way.
1. Respect Their Schedules
Understand that as much as you miss your child, he or she is busy stretching his or her wings and learning to live independently. They are not going to be available for phone calls and visits on your schedule. If your daughter gives you a ring during her five-minute walk to history class, enjoy the quick conversation, and don’t complain, “Can’t we talk when you have more time?”
2. Keep It Private
If you’re following your son or daughter’s Facebook page, avoid jumping in at every opportunity. “Liking” a post where your son brags about acing an exam is one thing, but resist the urge to publicly remind him to carry a sweater to tonight’s outdoor concert. Public nudges will make your child feel hovered over. It can also alienate their new friends and make them less likely to follow their Facebook timeline. If you absolutely must offer helpful nudges and reminders, limit them to email or text messages.
3. Visit the Homepage
Many college websites have special areas with information and resources for students’ parents, so you don’t feel like you have to bug your child all the time about upcoming events at school. Nearly all post a calendar of upcoming events, including Parents’ Weekends when a trip to campus is both welcomed and encouraged.
4. Go High Tech
Most smartphones offer ways to see your child as well as hear them via FaceTime or Skype. Also consider a regularly-scheduled video conference for the entire family using Google Hangouts, where several people can participate in an easy-to-set-up video chat.
5. Go Low Tech
Don’t forget to include a hand-written note with mail you’re sending to your child from home. Care packages from home are always appreciated. A batch of home-baked cookies during midterms can be a real morale booster, but another good way to let your child know you care is to send along the essentials they never remember to buy for themselves — a package of single-load laundry packets or ink cartridges for their printer.
As hard as it is, we have to let them go and do their own thing. But don’t worry: You’re always sure to hear from them next time they need money… Hah!
(Psst: Speaking of money, here’s a helpful post on saving for college while in college — both for you and your student!)