It's not your grandparent's college anymore. Technology, like it does to everything else, has changed the sorts of decisions that parents need to make when they're sending their kids off to school. Here are some general tips on how to stay (and not stay) in touch with your kids using technology.
BECAUSE IT'S THERE
Just because you can, doesn't mean you should be in constant contact. We've heard deans at colleges complain that the kids are actually texting their parents about what courses to take while they're signing up. Remember: They're going. You're staying. Advice is one thing. Helicopter parenting is another.
Your Sprint family plan might be great, until your child decides to head off to Hawaii or Alaska for school (never mind spending a year abroad). Make sure you investigate which carrier has the best service for a family plan. Root Metrics offers a quick look at coverage in most major cities. It does this by crowdsourcing data from calls that its members generate. Another site Cell Reception lets you type in a zip code and compare which services have the most cell phone towers in that area. It may be time to put your child on a pay as you go plan like these from Verizon. Just note that unlimited plans are usually what college students need.
Can't afford to fly them home for every holiday? That's ok. Just Skype them in. We set a place at the table and place a laptop or tablet for all to see. (Sometimes I suspect they're just using a photo of themselves and going out for the evening, so I toss a question to them to keep them on their feet). Google Hangouts is also an easy way to get the whole family logged into a conference.
THE MOMMY CAM
Most colleges now have webcams up all over the place. One of my favs is Cornell's MommyCam where you can always see a smiling face waving "hi mom!" It does the heart good. And kids, remember, you are being televised.
It was bad enough when you posted their baby pictures without permission, but you're going to have to learn to ask before you post. Some kids really don't want mom and dad to share a picture of every messy dorm room or new date. If your kids do let you be friends with them on Facebook, Instagram, or any other site, consider it a privilege not to be abused.
Now that many professors offer their lectures on demand with video and their course notes readily available, you've got to impress upon your kids the importance of actually getting to class. I liked to tell mine that I could have stayed at the Ritz for a day for each class they skipped. Seriously, online learning is great and there'll be plenty of it, but make sure your kids understand that a good professor who can draw a class into a dialog is invaluable, and worth the walk across the quad.
DOLLARS AND SENSE
Finally, and this may be the biggest change since you went to college. Many colleges have a single card that's good for everything from dorm room entry to meal plans to ATM machines and even restaurants and stores in town. Going one step further, some campuses, such as Mount Holyoke, have mobile payment systems in place, so all a student needs for most payments is their mobile phone. Ugh. Make sure you've set a reasonable budget and stick to your guns. We all know how easy it is to swipe away your dollars, kids need to learn that plastic money (or mobile money) is real money. Real, hard-earned, money.
The intersection of technology and education will be a focal point and hot topic of discussion at the upcoming TransformingEDU Summit, formerly HigherEd TECH Summit, during 2014 International CES from January 7 to 10 in Las Vegas, NV.
Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today's digital consumer.