We text, we tweet. We post and poke. We e-mail, e-vite and e-ignore. We surf and search and send with the click of a keyboard or the push of a button or the tap of a screen. But my Dr. Seuss-inspired attempt to list technological jargon should hopefully serve a greater purpose than just whimsical alliteration. I actually want to draw your attention to the vastness of the realm of 21st century communication and, more importantly, the extent to which constant communication is pervading the identity of our college experience.
Like any story, this one needs a beginning, and it starts with our parents. They were the founding fathers and mothers of a new movement of parenting — a hands-on, incredibly involved approach that provided an environment completely antithetic to the laissez-faire latchkey childhood experienced by Generation X. Whereas those Gen-Xers, now in their 30s and early 40s, were defined by a sense of loneliness and disillusionment (à la Reality Bites), we, the Millennials, grew up surrounded by people and activities and opportunities. Our parents were deeply invested in us, shuttling us from piano lessons to soccer practice to play rehearsals. They corrected our homework and proofread our college application essays and made sure we got trophies just for participating.
This helicopter parenting style, dubbed “iParenting” by psychology professor and New York Times contributor Barbara Hofer, has been enhanced by the rapid expansion of technology like cell phones and computers. Buying into the pitch that cell phones were a necessary safety measure, parents were now able to monitor the position and status of their children and teenagers around the clock. For the most part, we reciprocated the connection. Shopping for that new North Face fleece at the sporting goods store at 2:37 p.m.? A photo was easily sent to mom in a text. Having trouble finishing a paper for class? Just forward the document to dad and he will e-mail it back with his revisions.
We were so enveloped in this process that it simply spilled over into our college lives. According to Hofer, college students are communicating with their parents 13.4 times each week. Anything from roommate troubles to concern regarding a class to confusion about reading a bill can be easily conveyed home for instant feedback and advice. It is this cycle that is impeding our growth as young adults.
As much as it may hurt to hear, college is about more than the Miami Plan, weekend parties and hockey games. College is the first chance most of us have had to practice living on our own and being totally responsible for our own lives. It’s about making mistakes and learning to fix them by ourselves. It’s about learning to be self-sufficient and taking pride in that independence. It’s essentially a practice run for being a grown-up without all the pressures of the real world.
Of course it’s important for college students to maintain healthy relationships with their parents, but the current trend of over-communication is stunting our maturation. Rather than sending our parents every triviality of our lives, we need to learn how to deal with our victories and our failures on our own.
I said before that college is like a safety net. There are dozens of resources here for us if we’re stuck. Part of developing into a mature and functional adult is recognizing those resources and seeking them out when we need support. Our success once we leave here — whether in seven months or three years and seven months — will depend on that ability.
Just because we have constant access to communication doesn’t mean we need to always be using it. It’s time to cut the strings, or in our case the cords and plugs. Dr. Seuss once marveled at all the places we’ll go. It’s about time we figured out how to get there on our own. We can video chat with dad and Facebook message mom later.