Do you and your adult child text several times a day? If so, you better put down the phone, because you're stifling their independence. Parental texting has been criticized as the modern-day equivalent of giving a toddler a pacifier. Ages ago, we baby boomer parents were thrilled to find a way to soothe squawking children. While some experts warned that those plastic plugs stifle emotional and verbal development, that didn't stop us, and our kids turned out just fine. Not one is walking around with a pacifier.
Now, parents who text daily with their adult children face a similar criticism: We are keeping our emerging adults from becoming fully independent. A recent article, "Mom Stop Calling, I'll Text You All Day," quoted experts who cautioned against texting more than a few times a week. Apparently, young adults need to learn how to handle problems and disappointments without texting parents for on-demand advice. If they're in college, we parents are supposedly preventing them from developing coping skills. (How much laundry detergent?) If they are employed, then we are keeping them from work when they iChat or Gchat with us. (My boss is sooo annoying.)
Parent-child texting has been dubbed the "electronic tether" by Dr. Barbara Hofer, a Middlebury College psychology professor and co-author of "The iConnected Parent." Dr. Hofer believes that instant communication makes it too easy for young adults to turn to parents for answers to life's myriad problems and stifles their own decision making.
This concern that texting is yet another way helicopter parents keep their children from growing up ignores key generational differences. Gen Y lives online, making the personal public. Most baby boomers don't share what we ate for lunch, but our children sure do on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and with texts. A cell seems glued to their hands; most even sleep with their phones. A recent academic study found that the average college student sends 96 texts daily and receives 104. How many of those went to mom and dad? Maybe a dozen? Putting that in context, compared to the friends, parents are at the bottom of the message list.
Another generational difference is that our children's world is radically different from our wonder years of the 1960s and 1970s. Millennials grew up in the shadow of Columbine, 9/11, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. College costs upwards of $50,000 a year, and the job outlook for new grads is still grim. Because of that, it takes longer to launch a career, and many are delaying marriage and children until they become established. It's a different world out there from the one we experienced in our 20s taking longer to hit all the markers of adulthood.
Yes, we spoiled them by giving them trophies just for showing up at the soccer games, but we also layered high expectations for success on them. So, if they text us with a question before a job interview, is that so bad?
No doubt some Millenials rely too heavily on the electronic tether. However, a random sampling among friends and family found that texting was occasional and most was about mundane matters such as the weather, the line at the coffee shop, a gym class and/or dinner plans. Yes, occasionally from work with a groan or question, but certainly not "stealing" time from the boss. Much texting is done "in between" times while walking or waiting. My son texts when walking from work to the gym and in college my daughter texted between classes. I get the most texts when they are waiting in line or stuck in an airport.
The flip side of all that texting is it provides a lot of material for generational humor. Texting has spawned a number of websites including whenparentstext.com (small keypad, old hands), so popular it's also produced a book, a t-shirt and other merchandise. Another website, dammyouautocorrect.com, features a special section on mostly R-rated text typing mistakes by mom and dad.
Isn't the irony that we been heaped with advice by authors and experts on how to build and maintain loving relationships with our children, and now we are criticized for doing just that?
Texting keeps us connected with our kids and probably will replace the need for us aging boomers in years hence to wear one of those medical alert pendants featured in TV ads. We'll be able to text: I've fallen and can't get up!