The iConnected Parent (Summer Reading 2012) part 1

Today’s assignment — Chapter 1: iConnected Parenting 101.

You know, I don’t do book clubs.  I don’t know why.  Well, maybe I do know why.  I think for a book club to work for me it would have to be a perfect storm of people I knew exactly the right amount PLUS people who were exactly as interested in talking about the book as I was.  I suspect that if #1 wasn’t there – as in people I knew not well enough – then #2 would default immediately into talking about other things than the book, because.. well… I tend to feel strongly about books.

And if there’s one thing my history graduate degree gave me it was the training to feel strongly about books and also feel really, really comfortable into trying to argue other people into feeling the same way I do.  I don’t think that’s what most people do book groups for.

A photograph of a book with an image of an empty nest on the cover and the title The iConnected Parent by Barbara Hofer

But I’m going to read this book – pretty much in public – and those things won’t matter because you can read along or not, agree or argue or not – and it’ll be fine.

Barbara K. Hofer & Abigail S. Moore. The iConnected Parent: Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up.  New York: Free Press, 2010.

So first off I am not a huge fan of the title.  I wonder if the author actually loves this title?  It reads like an effort to give a fairly academic book more mainstream appeal so I am not going to hold the title against her.

I’m going to read this book because it’s research-based. It grew out of series of research studies that Dr. Hofer (a psychology professor at Middlebury) conducted with and about students at her college.  I am also going to read it because in the stories I read about it, the authors tended to avoid the kind of sensationalistic “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS” anecdotes and spin that characterize a lot of the stories I hear (and I admit it, sometimes retell) about college students and their relationship to their parents.

Full disclosure, I was a kid who talked a lot to my family when I was in college.  I went to school 3,000 miles away from home, in a big city, and as the first one of my siblings to go to college.  This was the age before cell phones, before VOIP and before the Internet, when we had to be aware of things like long-distance charges and when the rates changed. My mom owned her own business, and would take calls from me any time – I didn’t have to worry about the costs – so I talked to her (and sometimes my dad or my sisters) a few times a week.  Several of my friends would have also characterized themselves as close to their families, but even in that context, I was considered pretty weird.

Enough with the preliminaries.  I promise, tomorrow I’ll get to the content quicker.  This is just the introductory chapter, though, so there’s some room for my own introduction too.  In this piece the authors are doing the typical introductory stuff – here’s the argument and here’s how we got involved in the project.

Summary of Chapter 1

So, here’s how they got there:

Dr. Hofer noticed students leaving her classes at Middlebury and immediately calling their parents.  Interested in the phenomenon, she asked some students to help her explore the connection between this frequent (& cell-phone enabled) parent/child communication and the students’ ability to become independent (along a variety of vectors). That study got some popular attention, and in the ensuing rounds of public conversation, she met Abby Moore, a journalist covering the same types of phenomena for the New York Times.  They decided to collaborate on a book length treatment.

And here’s the argument (from page 2):

We use the term iConnected Parenting to refer to a culture of parents deeply involved in their children’s lives, even as they approach adulthood, that uses the technology of instand communication to enhance their connection. Perhaps nowhere is this trend more evident than on campus, where parents and kids once separated. We believe that it has substantially changed parent-child relationships, during the college years especially, and that there are both benefits and drawbacks to this.

My thoughts:

Starting with the reflective piece.  As I said before, I talked to my family a lot for a Gen X type and I am fairly certain that were IM, cell phones and Skype available to me I would have talked to them even more.  Actually, given how fast my mom and I both type, I suspect that IM and email would have actually been the killer apps for us.

At the same time, I was pretty aggressively independent and my parents did a lot to encourage that.  I made almost all of my academic decisions by myself – starting with high school. I navigated the whole college-choosing process with very little input.  I decided on my own courses, I found my own jobs — I was as independent as anyone I knew.  As a matter of fact, THAT’S actually one reason I think I was weird — because I talked to my family all the time without HAVING to — I wasn’t expected nor required to run things by them, I didn’t have to clear my choices or even how I was spending money with them — I had more independence from my family and still I talked to my mom every other day or so.

So while I find the argument that technology and ease of communication MUST be making things different very intuitive — I’m not sure what I think the impact of that change is.  In other words, I am sure that I would have been a lot more connected to family (and to friends) from “back home” with ubiquitous lines of communication — but I’m not sure what the impact of that would have been on my development, my independence, or my life.

The introduction runs through a variety of “cultural factors” the authors think are contributing to these changes – I assume these will be fleshed out (and documented) more later, because here they are barely more than assertions:

  • Parents having fewer kids and having them later.
  • The belief that the world today is more dangerous than it used to be.
  • Kids living more scheduled lives.
  • A more competitive college admissions process.
And I’m not sure if this is another cause or if it’s the effect — more time spent in a liminal phase between adolescence and adulthood.

So my hopes for the book include –

  • I hope the book really digs into Hofer’s actual research.
  • I hope the book looks at the impact of technology in a complex way.  For example, so much of the communication we’re talking about takes place in text – and everyone doesn’t have an equal level of facility with text — how does that affect or change things?  What is the impact of culture, or class on these questions?
  • I hope this isn’t JUST about parenting.  It is also much, much easier for students today to stay very connected to the circle of friends from high school, and I have to think that those connections are every bit as likely as the connections to family to have an impact on how well a student engages with and connects to their new community in college.
  • I hope the book draws some connections between these observations and existing, research-based theory on college student development.

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