Parents learn how to let go in the technological ageby Nanci Olesen, Minnesota Public Radio
When kids head off to college, parents are forced to separate themselves from what has been a constant hands-on job for years. Many parents rely on a book called "Letting Go." It's been around since the 1990s with several updates.
St. Paul, Minn. — Madge Treeger saw a need for a book about sending a kid to college, while she and co-author Karen Coburn were on staff at Washington University in St. Louis.
Year after year, they watched freshmen and their parents struggle through the separation. And Treeger herself was sending her own kids off to college.
"We had heard so many things from students about their parents wanting to be helpful but intruding in different ways and not understanding, and then going through it ourselves so it may have been our way of letting go ourselves," explained Treeger.
In the 2003 edition of "Letting Go," the authors noted that some parents were buying their kids cell phones before they left for college. But today, even grade schoolers have cell phones and are capable of being in hourly contact with Mom and Dad.
At the food court in Coffman Union on the University of Minnesota campus, it's lunch rush. Freshman John Jung is finishing his nachos. He talks to his parents maybe once a week, but he says that's unusual.
It's common for students to be on their phones as they walk between classes. Some of them are talking to their parents. Alex Edwards is also a freshman at the University. She says that many of her friends hear from their parents every day.
"They'll call a lot and they'll want them to come home every weekend. I'm really glad my mom isn't like that," said Edwards.
Alex's mom lives in St. Paul, but to Alex the Minneapolis campus of the university feels like home. Her mom is Mary Kay Edwards. She says she's proud Alex is becoming independent.
"I will call her and leave messages on her cell phone, and I will also send e-mails and she'll do likewise," Alex's mom Mary said.
But other parents have a harder time letting go. New technology helps keep them connected to their kids. Some college officials believe there's too much involvement from this generation of parents. Jim Hoppe is the Dean of Students at Macalester College in St. Paul.
"I'll have a student who will leave my office, and I can see them walking down the path, and I'm getting an e-mail or a phone call from the parent, because they've called to report in on the meeting, and they're just much more used to being in connection with their son or daughter," Hoppe said.
"It's tough on the parents, then, to figure out how to navigate this next step of their relationship, because they still do have a lot of this almost constant connection."
That connection between parents and kids isn't necessarily a problem, according to author Madge Treeger. But she says parents shouldn't rush in to fix everyday problems for college students. Parents should keep in mind that they want their kid to become independent.
"If you think that way, it doesn't matter how many times a day you call. It's a frame of mind of wanting your child to become self-reliant and wanting to enjoy the process," Treeger explained.
Treeger has been conducting focus groups around the country, including in Minnesota. She's finding that the question of how involved parents should be is a hot topic.
Treeger and her co-authors are hoping to help parents, students and college administrators negotiate the question of how to stay in touch, but not too much, in the next edition of "Letting Go."
- Morning Edition, 02/08/2008, 7:55 a.m.