Sunday, December 5, 2010

Staying Connected in a Fast Paced World

 The iConnected Parent by Barbara Hofer and Abigail Sullivan Moore is a new  must read for any parent of high school seniors or college age students.  And  parents with children of any age who want to learn more about contemporary commnication habits may want to take a look as well.  The book reveals the blessings and pitfalls of our current electronic connectivity and its impact on young adult development. "iConnected Parents...represent a new era in parenting:a potent new mix of devoted parent, guide, and friend, fluent in speed-dial, Facebook, and the flick of a mouse."  They explore the continuous tether that links our kids to us in ways that were not possible when most of us were their age.

Hofer is a professor of psychology at Middlebury who has researched the link between parent-child communication and the development of independence in adolescents and young adults.  Moore is a journalist and frequent contributor to the New York Times.  In this book they present a compilation of some research and some investigative reporting with many interviews of students, parents, and administrators who have a range of opinions on the issue.

A few highlights:
  • Families of the college students interviewed communicate one way or another an average of more than 13 times per week.
  • Parents are intervening in course selection, paper editing, negotiations over grades, and roommate concerns in ways that college administrators find distressing if not illegal and unethical.
  • The new connectivity between generations can stir some complicated involvement that not all parties find helpful or healthy.
  • Parents need to be better listeners and not problem solvers.  Having easy access to advice with one click may serve to increase anxiety in parents as well as kids.
  • Dependence on and easy access to Mom and Dad does not foster resilience, patience or self-reliance.
  • These new relationships are so pervasive now that it may be the start of a new inter-generational norm, heretofore not experienced in American life.
My criticisms of the book include the fact that the research is presented in a thoroughly unscientific and unquantitative way.  Not nearly enough thought is given to Facebook and how parents should manage their accounts or interFace with their offspring.  Finally, although the subtitle of this book involves the word "college" I wonder about the conncectivity between non-college bound students and their parents. It would also be interesting to know more about the effect of socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds on the issue.

To its credit, this book has one of the best chapters I have read on mental health issues at college.  Not surprisingly, the bottom line when a child is struggling in this way is that communication and connection need to go way beyond the one on one parent-child and include key professionals.

Finally, this is a wonderful book for grandparents to read who often feel left out of modern communication but at the same time marvel at their family's connectivity.   Having a generational perspective on this can help all of us carefully define what the "new normal" should look like so that everyone benefits in the long run.

image from bbc.co.uk

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