Communicating With Your College Kid
Tips and tech for staying connected
Your soon-to-be college student doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t have access to just about anything on demand. But as he heads off to college, the one thing he will no longer have instant access to is … YOU.
Your child also won’t have your guidance in the ways he has been used to over the last 18 or so years. Whether he realizes it or not, it may take time for him — and you — to adjust.
Whether your child attends college across town or across the country, college life is a world away from his experiences at home. He will have new responsibilities, friends, challenges and life lessons to learn — one of which is the importance of communication in healthy relationships, and how distance can play a substantial role in shaping how he communicates with you.
Here are a few tips and some technology options for staying connected with your child when he heads off to college.
Prepare for a Change in Communication Style
College students and their parents have never been so accessible to each other — no matter the distance. While there are lots of apps and technology that allow you to connect with loved ones thousands of miles away whenever you want, all of this access can become burdensome if not approached thoughtfully.
To avoid misunderstandings, discuss how you are going to maintain communication before your child leaves for college. Give her the freedom to lead the discussion about the arrangement. Encourage a healthy dialogue about boundaries and goals, and use this as an opportunity for her to have an adult conversation about communication styles.
Consider asking the following questions to get the conversation going:
1. What could we use as our primary form of communication?
2. If we want to “check in” with each other, how might we accomplish that?
3. If something is urgent, is it best to communicate via a voice call?
NOTE: Avoid using words like “should” when discussing your communications arrangement, which implies obligation or pressure.
Use an App to Make Communication Fun
Many apps can help you stay connected while your child is away at college. The easiest apps to use are native smartphone messaging apps. Some families choose to use a family group text to share quick messages, images or audio between each other. Others prefer to use FaceTime or other video chat apps. Here are some options to consider. Unless noted, these are all available for iPhone or Android devices.
WhatsApp – WhatsApp allows your entire family to share messages, videos and photos on one chat. Unlike some native smartphone messaging systems, WhatsApp messages can be synced between phone and desktop devices. WhatsApp also supports sending voice messages, as well as making voice and video calls using data or Wi-Fi.
Houseparty – Houseparty allows group video chat on mobile or desktop devices for up to eight people at the same time. Similar to AIM, a pioneering chat app that was discontinued in 2017, Houseparty informs others that you’re “in the house” and available to chat. You can also identify yourself as being “away” or log out completely.
Image courtesy of Houseparty
Messenger – Connected to your Facebook account, Messenger can handle text, audio, video or photo messaging between you and other family members. Like WhatsApp, you can communicate with groups, but with Messenger you can also send money to your family members securely or play games together in real time while you video chat.
Bitmoji – While not a social networking app, Bitmoji is a favorite communication tool because it allows you to create your own personal emojis and share them with contacts. Bitmoji images can be shared via text message or email, or within SnapChat.
Don’t forget about surprising your college student with physical care packages. These are popular during holidays and exam weeks. Although college students are a part of what San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge calls iGen — a generation that’s continuously connected to their smartphones — care packages never go out of style for them. In addition to using digital communication, periodically send your child a care package with her favorite homemade goodies, snacks, sundry items, gift cards, shower accessories or dorm room supplies.
Make your own or consider one of these care package resources:
• Edible Arrangements – Send beautiful and delicious fruit and candy bouquets.
• Sugarfina – Gift your child with candygram gift boxes of (non-alcoholic) champagne, gummy bears and other sugary treats.
• Insomnia Cookies – Send your child a box of warm, fresh-out-of-the-oven cookies, which can be delivered until 3 a.m. on weekdays and weekends since there are locations in 43 of the 50 states with many setting up shop in college towns.
• Amazon Prime – Consider gifting your student with an Amazon Prime Student membership for saving money on textbooks, snacks, toiletries and other items.
Don’t Assume the Worst
It’s safe to assume that your primary mode of communication with your child will involve texting. According to the October 2017 issue of Inc. magazine, 75 percent of college-age students prefer texting over voice messaging as their primary mode of communication.
However, try not to assume how your child is feeling based on his responses — or lack of responses. The tone of a reply is sometimes hard to discern from brief, texted communication, so if you’re getting short responses, don’t automatically assume something is wrong. Sometimes “OK” just means OK.
Once your child is away at college, keep in mind that the responsibilities, excitement and pressures of college life may be different than any of youanticipated. Be nimble to your communication style evolving over time until your child gets used to his new lifestyle. If you need to renegotiate your communication arrangement, take time during home visits to discuss whether the current agreement is working for all parties.
Additionally, be open to using new apps and forms of communication with your child. Software and systems go in and out of fashion with college students at the “speed of byte.”
Do’s and Don’ts
1. Keep the ratio of who initiates contact one-to-one. If you feel the urge to reach out to your child more frequently than she reaches out to you, resist it, so you won’t seem overbearing.
2. Send “low pressure” messages. Don’t always ask a ton of questions that make your child feel like she needs to write an essay to respond. Send quick messages or ones that don’t require a response at all.
3. Consider texting before you request a video call. Your child may not be in the best mood, location or situation to FaceTime with you, so always text before you FaceTime and encourage your child to do the same. If you need to talk to your child urgently, use voice only.
4. Mix up your communication style by using text, videos, images, virtual stickers, Bitmojis and other fun technology to express yourself. Yes, college kids think it’s sort of cheesy when their parents jump on digital trends, but they also think it’s cool when parents “get” their communication style or preference.
1. Dictate the communication structure. Communication is a two-way street, and a mutually beneficial communication style will require negotiation and compromise on both sides.
2. Use social media to communicate personally. Resist tagging your child on social media when you want his attention on personal matters. Public social networking sites are not the place to hash out family discussions. Use private communication tools to do that.
3. Assume that the face-to-face time you had with your child while he was at home will now be converted into time spent talking on audio or video calls. Some college students prefer to speak with their parents every day, others don’t. Discuss your desired frequency of communication with your child before he leaves.
4. Send sensitive information via third-party apps. If you’re sending your child confidential information, like account numbers, these are situations where a direct text or phone call is warranted.
Tivi Jones is founder of Hey Awesome Girl!, a creative house for women. She is also a contributing writer for “U Chic: The College Girl’s Guide to Everything,” now in its fifth edition.