Phone Home: Tech Draws Parents, College Kids Closer College students often contact their parents twice a day, seven days a week, and they are not always asking for money. Communications technology — including texting, email and social media — has changed the relationship among parents, students and universities.

Phone Home: Tech Draws Parents, College Kids Closer

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You know, when I was in college not that long ago, I'd pick up a phone attached to a cord and call home at least once a week. Apparently that's changing. The average college student today contacts his or her parents twice a day, seven days a week - not always asking for money.

NPR's Reema Khrais tells us how communications technology has changed the relationship between parents, students and universities.

REEMA KHRAIS, BYLINE: From breakfast to bedtime, college sophomore Julia-Scott Dawson and her mom, Robin, exchange a flurry of texts. Things like...

ROBIN DAWSON: How did that appointment go?

JULIA-SCOTT DAWSON: How was class?

R. DAWSON: What's going on with your sorority sisters?

J. DAWSON: How's it going?

R. DAWSON: Love you.

KHRAIS: And when she's not texting, Julia-Scott visits mom and dad at home, just a 15-minute drive from her dorm at the University of North Carolina. Every Sunday, they share a meal.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...Set some plates here and put salad out.

KHRAIS: Weekly coffee dates are also a parent-daughter ritual for the Dawsons. Julia-Scott says they use the time to talk about things like her sorority, classes or...

J. DAWSON: Like things with boys, if that's happening. Like, pretty much everything.

KHRAIS: So how often do they talk?

J. DAWSON: Not all the time. But, like I talk to you like...

R. DAWSON: Every day.

J. DAWSON: ...every day.

KHRAIS: OK, Julia-Scott and her parents are really close. But that's nothing too unusual. According to research conducted by Middlebury College professor Barbara Hofer, college students communicate about twice a day with their parents.

RODNEY JOHNSON: When I went to school, back in the Dark Ages, your parents dropped you off at the curb, you went in, you unpacked, the phone was at the other end of the hallway. Things have changed.

KHRAIS: That's Rodney Johnson, he helped create George Washington University's Office of Parent Services. The office was one of the first of its kind back in the early '90s. Today, about 30 percent of colleges have similar services to meet the growing involvement of parents. And more than 90 percent offer a specific orientation for parents of freshmen.

JOHNSON: Our job is to do it in a positive way, is to say: Mom, Dad, you need to back off a little bit, let your sons and daughters take care of this.

KHRAIS: About 15 calls and e-mails a day come through the office. That means about 2,500 calls a year from parents worried about Johnny's safety or Jane's roommate problems.


KHRAIS: But you would never know that talking to dozens of students on college campuses. Many of them cringed when I asked if they have helicopter parents. Oh no, they say, my parents don't hover; they just really care about what's going on in my life.

Senior Doug Brem, at George Washington University, was one of the very few students to admit knocking on mom and dad's door only for a reason.

DOUG BREM: If I need some money or whatever, if I need a signature.

KHRAIS: Back at the Dawsons' house, Julia-Scott's mother, Robin, shows me her Facebook profile.

R. DAWSON: I'm friends with my daughter on Facebook. I'm friends with most of her friends on Facebook. She's friends with most of my friends on Facebook.

KHRAIS: A generation ago, it wasn't that easy for parents to keep in touch with their children; no Facebook, and cell phones were rare. Back then, students waited turns to make weekly collect calls home. Of course, snail mail was always an option too.

JON GOULD: One thing that's different about the generation of parents and kids today is they grew up for the most part liking one another. And I think that's different than, say, the baby boomers who grew up rebelling against their parents.

KHRAIS: That's American University professor Jon Gould. He recently published a book called "How to Succeed in College (While Really Trying)." He says changes in communication technology have simply made for healthier parent-child relationships. And that makes moms, like Robin Dawson, happy. She can't imagine a world that doesn't involve constant contact with her kid.

R. DAWSON: I just love her. And I love having time with her, and - this is going to make me cry.


KHRAIS: But Robin insists she is not a helicopter parent; more like the coach from the sidelines, she says, cheering on her daughter.

Reema Khrais, NPR News.

INSKEEP: I'll call you Sunday, Mom. You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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