When parents are too connected

How parents can cut the texting tether and free their kids for greater success

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Published in The Toronto Star in September 2016

When I dropped my daughter Ruby off at her dorm for her first year at McMaster University in Hamilton last September, the first thing I wanted to do when I got home was text her to make sure everything was OK.

I fought the urge to reach out that day - and the next. I had made myself a promise that no matter how much I missed her or was curious about how she was faring, I would mostly leave it to her to initiate contact. There were many times when her absence felt like an ache and my itchy fingers would reach for the phone. But I held firm.

As a mother who has always been prone to hover, I didn’t want to be one of those parents who couldn’t let go when her kid goes off to university - you know, the one who incessantly texts her kids, calls them to wake them on exam day, polices their grades, edits their papers and intervenes if there’s a conflict with a professor.

These are the parents who call campus police when they can’t immediately reach their child by phone. They’ve even been known to follow their kids to university - USA Today has reported on parents’ relocating or buying a second home to be close to their college-bound kids.

The only regular contact Sandra Green*, a 50-year-old Toronto real estate agent, had with her parents when she was in university 30 years ago was a Sunday night call from the pay phone in her residence.

But when her first-born went to Brock University in St. Catharines to study film last year, she expected they’d touch base more often - and was devastated when she rarely heard from him.

“I would reach out by text and his responses would be very brief,” said Green, who doesn’t want her real name used to avoid embarrassing her son. She told herself not to take it personally, but says she felt like “a jilted lover” and experienced jealousy when her friends would tell her about texts they received from their kids.

When her son came home at Christmas she blew up at him for not being in touch more. “He looked at me like I was looney tunes,” said Green.

We can miss our kids terribly when they head off to university. In our speed-dial culture it’s easy to instantaneously be in touch with them. But that constant communication can rob students of the chance to develop into resilient and independent adults who are confident about navigating their own way in the world.

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