Once upon a time fully-loaded family station wagons deposited fresh-faced first year students on the steps of their new college home. After a quick hug, maybe a photo on their 35mm camera, and a couple of tears, mom and dad drove off into the quickening sunset. Except for the occasional pay-phone or in-room call, communication ceased until the first big holiday break. Junior went on to acclimate to his new surroundings and make life-changing decisions on his own (Do I drop Calc I? Should I sign up for alternative spring break?). Parents went on to adjust to being empty nesters or devote more attention to the ones still left in the nest.
Today’s social-media infused world leaves contemporary parents with a completely different set of circumstances. No longer do we have huge absences in quality communication, but we can speak with our kids easily at any time and watch their lives unfold in real time on Instagram and Twitter.
I personally traveled 500 miles away to attend a Jesuit university in the Midwest. It was a rare occasion for me to have any direct communication with my family. The ability to call was always there, but the need was not a pressing one. My peer group was of the belief that we were independently taking care of business for ourselves. Today, the 18 year old who told me at the close of Family Orientation that she would not be calling us, has maintained a pretty strong connection via iPhone calls, DMs on Twitter, Facebook comments, and Instagram tags. I guess you would say we have a pretty close connection if she actually tags me on Instagram. We have learned of her test grades as she is walking back from the professor’s office; found out about her selection as a student ambassador for the school via FaceTime, and have seen super-magnified slide photos of the fruit fly brain research she was working on via text.
While social media has maintained a window into her world, it is has been purely just that: a window. We have let her initiate communication with us and celebrate her successes while keeping the conversation/Face-Time, Texting, etc. short. Where social media broke through the looking glass of voyeurism and transformed into a crucial assist was when she was stranded in the airport of one of largest cities in the U.S.
She had her cell phone, and despite existing on low battery, was able to plug into one of the powering stations in the terminal. She called to let me know her situation, and I immediately left my business lunch to get in front of a screen larger than my cell phone to figure out how to get her from point A to point B in the midst of a major storm. I could easily check websites for airlines, trains, busses and taxis as well as be in communication with her school, all while keeping her on the line. In the end we figured it out. She took the first cab ride of her life on a 2+hr trip with a driver who spoke very little English. I crossed my fingers and hoped she would arrive in the right place. She did.
Times have surely changed in terms of parent-college student communications and I for one think that could be a good thing. I guess we can say that the closing of the SUV hatch does not signify the end of the relationship.
Speaking from the sociological side of social media- Cheers to you!