"Just let go!" That’s what parents have been told to do when their kids go to college. But in our speed-dial culture, with BlackBerries and even Skype, parents and kids are now more than ever in constant contact. Today’s iConnected parents say they are closer to their kids than their parents were to them—and this generation of families prefers it that way. Parents are their children’s mentors, confidants, and friends—but is this good for the kids? Are parents really letting go—and does that matter?
Dr. Barbara Hofer, a Middlebury College professor of psychology, and Abigail Sullivan Moore, a journalist who has reported on college and high school trends for the New York Times, answer these questions and more in their groundbreaking, compelling account of both the good and the bad of close communication in the college years and beyond. An essential assessment of the state of parent-child relationships in an age of instant communication, The iConnected Parent goes beyond sounding the alarm about the ways many young adults are failing to develop independence to describe the healthy, mutually fulfilling relationships that can emerge when families grow closer in our wired world.
Communicating an average of thirteen times a week, parents and their college-age kids are having a hard time letting go. Hofer’s research and Moore’s extensive reporting reveal how this trend is shaping families, schools, and workplaces, and the challenge it poses for students with mental health and learning issues. Until recently, students handled college on their own, learning life’s lessons and growing up in the process. Now, many students turn to their parents for instant answers to everyday questions. "My roommate’s boyfriend is here all the time and I have no privacy! What should I do?" "Can you edit my paper tonight? It’s due tomorrow." "What setting should I use to wash my jeans?" And Mom and Dad are not just the Google and Wikipedia for overcoming daily pitfalls; Hofer and Moore have discovered that some parents get involved in unprecedented ways, phoning professors and classmates, choosing their child’s courses, and even crossing the lines set by university honor codes with the academic help they provide. Hofer and Moore offer practical advice, from the years before college through the years after graduation, on how parents can stay connected to their kids while giving them the space they need to become independent adults.
Cell phones and laptops don’t come with parenting instructions. The iConnected Parent is an invaluable guide for any parent with a child heading to or already on campus.
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About the Author
Barbara K. Hofer, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Middlebury College who conducts research and teaches about adolescence and the transition to adulthood. The parent of a daughter and son who recently completed college, she knows the issues of parenting this generation firsthand.
Abigail Sullivan Moore has been a regular contributor to the New York Times, writing about high school, college, and university issues. She is the parent of two boysone in college, the other in middle schooland faces her own iConnecting challenges daily.
Reading Group Guide
The following reading group guide is intended to help you find in-ter-esting and rewarding approaches to your reading of The iConnected Parent. We hope this enhances your enjoyment and appreciation of the book. For a complete listing of reading group guides from Simon & Schuster, visit readinggroups.simonandschuster.com.
In the months since The iConnected Parent appeared, we have heard from book groups around the country. Parents of college-age, college-bound, and younger students have gathered to discuss the book’s ideas and talk about their own parenting and “iConnections” with their kids.
We have also given talks to professional and community groups, parents of high school and college students, college admissions staff, and mental health practitioners. The question-and-answer sessions and conversations afterward have been lively and meaningful. Realizing that The iConnected Parent offers much to talk about, we have developed discussion guidelines for various groups. Below are suggested questions to start the conversations, organized by type of group.
TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
For Local Book Groups: Parents (and Grandparents) of College and High School Students
1. How different is the communication described in The iConnected Parent from when you were in college or in your years just after high school?
2. What do you think has driven these changes? Is it technology, or other cultural forces, or a combination of both?
3. How healthy do you think it is for students and parents to talk, text, Skype, and Facebook so frequently? What do you see as the pros and cons of so much contact?
4. What has been your own family’s experience? Are moms and dads playing different roles or similar ones?
5. How well do you think today’s college students are progressing toward adult responsibility? What about your own children or grandchildren?
6. Do you think it’s okay for parents to get involved in writing and editing their students’ papers and other assignments?
7. Do you think it’s okay for parents to get involved in their students’ disputes with roommates or other aspects of campus life? When does it seem reasonable for parents to intervene in their college kids’ lives—and how? What steps can be taken first?
8. What kind of parental involvement do you see as beneficial during the college years? In the years after college?
9. What are you doing as parents to help your growing children take responsibility for their behavior and promote independence? What else might you consider? What tips from The iConnected Parent seem easiest to implement, and which ones seem more difficult?
For Parents and Guidance Counselors of High School Students
The iConnected Parent also may be a practical resource at college planning time for parents and guidance counselors of high schoolers. Discussion might focus on the following questions:
1. How do we start now to prepare our students for the type of independence that The iConnected Parent suggests is beneficial?
2. What can we do in our kids’ everyday lives to encourage their progress toward autonomy? What are some things that our kids can start doing now for themselves (that we may be doing) before they head off for college?
3. How do we handle the college admissions process so that our kids have ownership and find the best fit for their own interests, abilities, and potential?
4. Looking forward, how often do we expect to communicate during the college years, and what role do we want to play as parents during that time? What tips does The iConnected Parent offer that enable us to plan ahead for those years?
For College and University Orientation Programs for Parents
Some schools may want to incorporate The iConnected Parent into their first-year orientation sessions, offering it as a resource to parents before school starts and then scheduling discussion groups as part of parent orientation programming. Colleges also may want to develop Webinars or an online book discussion before the first semester begins. Here are some sample discussion questions:
1. Have you discussed with your child how often he or she might want to talk? Who will initiate the contact?
2. How often do you want to communicate? What are the ways that you want to stay in touch? What do you think about being friends on Facebook during the college years?
3. What kind of adult do you imagine your child becoming, and how can you help him or her develop in the years ahead? When do you think adulthood begins, and what are the markers? What steps toward adulthood have you observed in your growing adult child?
4. How do you plan to handle conversations when your son or daughter is upset about a roommate problem, a poor grade, or a bump in his or her social life?
5. How can you encourage your son or daughter to seek appropriate help on campus? What types of resources does the college or university have available?
6. When do you think it’s appropriate for you to contact the college?
7. How do you plan to manage communications with your student if she has an ongoing mental health or other medical concern?
8. Similarly, what if your student has learning and attention issues? What is the beneficial balance of providing support and encouraging independence?
For “Parent Weekend” Programs
Many colleges and universities have parent weekends, typically in the fall. These weekends offer a variety of programming for parents, and could include book discussion groups, organized by the institution or by a parent organization. In addition to the first set of questions above, parents might also discuss the following:
1. Are we talking too much or too little, or do we seem to be getting it right? How do we know?
2. Does my child know how to seek help outside the family and how and where to turn for assistance on campus?
3. What can I do if my child thinks we should talk more often because others are doing so? What can I do if my child thinks we are talking too much?
4. Do I see my child making strides toward an adult view of the world? What examples do I see of growing independence? Is he or she taking responsibility for managing daily life at school? Are there ways I am helping that might not be beneficial in the long run?
For Staff, Faculty, and Administrator Groups
College and university staff and faculty members might want to gather to discuss the implications of the research and reporting described in The iConnected Parent. Some possible questions include the following:
1. What do we consider ideal parental involvement in the college years, and how do we foster that?
2. What role do we think parents can best play in support of students’ academic work? What concerns do we have about the findings that many students have parental help in editing their papers? Do we need to provide more guidance to students and parents about whether this kind of help is appropriate?
3. How can we best support the development of student autonomy and self-regulation? What current programs and policies might hinder this? What do we do on this campus that promotes such development?
4. What programs can we create for parents that might help our students become independent adults?
5. What other implications of this research and reporting do we see on our campus?
For College Admissions Counselors
In our work with college admissions counselors, we have learned how eager they are to know that the college applications they are evaluating are reflective of the students themselves. They are also eager to help students find the best fit among their college choices. They are aware, of course, that many parents are making a substantial investment in their child’s college education and want to be as well informed as possible about the decisions ahead. College admissions groups might want to meet and discuss The iConnected Parent with the following questions in mind, in addition to some of those above.
1. What’s the most beneficial role for parents in the college admissions process?
2. What guidance can we give parents in understanding the importance of student engagement in the admissions process?
3. How do we create a process that values student involvement at each step of our process?
A father in Connecticut wrote to us after leading a book discussion with neighboring parents: “What really caught our attention was the disservice of too much communication and decision making from the parents. Your book was alarming in that all the good intentions of supporting our children could, in the end, delay or seriously injure our beloved’s ways of feeling the pain—or elation—of decision -making. That was a HUGE lesson. There were many comments that the book was an interesting and enjoyable read and that it helped us focus our efforts going forward. The book’s examples provided a lesson on so much of what not to do.”
We hope you will find your discussion equally productive! We wish you the best in thinking about the implications of the ideas in The iConnected Parent and hope you find our suggestions helpful. We welcome hearing from you. You can reach us at email@example.com and Abbymoore.com.