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ABC News "Parents Struggle with Letting Go of College Students"
Last Updated: 02/28/2010
Parents Struggle With Letting Go of College Kids
As Teens Leave Home, Baby Boomer Parents Can't Seem to Say Goodbye
Nov. 30, 2004 --
When Katie Ourada headed off to the University of Minnesota this fall, she knew she'd have to juggle classes, homework, friends and new responsibilities. What she didn't expect was how much time she'd have to devote to her parents.
"Most of my communication with my parents, especially my mom, is for her, because I think she's lonely and sad sometimes that I'm not there," said Katie.
According to a recent UCLA survey, 26 percent of college freshman say they speak to their parents every day.
Even with a 10-year-old son still at home, Lisa and Bob Ourada, like many baby boomer parents, have had a very difficult time letting go.
"I sort of prepared myself for this for 18 years -- I always dreamed that she would go to college," said Lisa. "And I knew it would be difficult. & I guess you can't feel that emptiness until you experience it."
And technology makes it all too easy for them to bridge the 200-mile gap.
The Ouradas call Katie's cell phone at least four times a week, e-mail her two or three times a day and chat via instant messenger for hours on end. Katie sends papers for her mom to proofread and gets care packages from home.
But that's still not enough for mom -- who is considering a drastic move.
"I would be willing to move closer to Katie, especially if she would want that also," said Lisa. "I think we're just so connected. More so now than ever."
Marjorie Savage, the parent program director at the University of Minnesota and the author of "You're on Your Own, But I'm Here if You Need Me: A Guide to Parenting College Kids," says there are risks with staying too connected.
"The risk of having a parent be overly involved is that students won't be able to learn how to make decisions, and that really is the biggest thing that students need to be able to do," said Savage.
She said that parents today are having trouble letting go for a number of reasons.
"First of all, parents have been told to be involved since their kids started preschool," she said. "Second, they're investing a lot. College is expensive today. Finally, they're involved because they can be. Communication is instant and constant."
Other students at Katie's school said they're well aware of the mixed feelings constant calls from home provoke.
"My dad's very tech-savvy so he'll send me little messages or pictures from his phone right to my phone, so I get to see what's he's doing or hear what he's doing all the time," said 18-year-old Blake Pierce. "And about every week or so, we try and video chat back and forth over the Internet. So I get a little bit of face time."
But when does it become too much?
"I'm really close to my parents, and I love to talk to them, but just not all the time," said 19-year-old Libby Issendorf.
Savage calls these overprotective parents "helicopter parents."
"It's the parent who swoops in, hovers, makes sure things are OK, and then maybe swoops back out again," she said.
Many experts fear that parents who rush to the rescue will produce kids who are in no rush to grow up, risking problems in their careers, relationships and sense of self-esteem.
"When I think of telling my mom that she should probably let go a little bit it makes me feel bad, but I know that someday there's going to be a point that I'm going to have to do that," said Katie.
But for now, Katie's mom is still keeping a tight grip."I think her bringing her laundry home, and giving me her wish list and letting me know what she needs, it sort of makes me feel like she still needs me," said Lisa. "And that's what a mom is for."
How can parents learn to let go but still stay involved with their college kids? Parenting expert Ann Pleshette Murphy offers these tips:
Don't offer advice unless they ask for it
Don't always swoop in to "save" them -- let them solve their own problems
Avoid the early morning call
Don't team call: It's annoying for mom and dad to be on the line at the same time
Accept their silence when they don't feel like talking
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