Columbia survey: texting most frequent between parents, students

By Lisa Schulz

Emoticons can be used to emphasize tone while texting or they can substitute for the lack thereof. Even with a typed heart and smiley face expressing love, however, it seems college students and their parents may be growing further apart rather than closer together with each frequent tap of the “send” button.

A communication survey conducted at Parent Weekend on Oct. 17 found that most parents converse with their son or daughter once per week via texting.

The survey was undertaken by Louise Love, interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs.

The eight-question survey, answered using remote devices by 67 parents during her speech, explored various topics of communication.

For example, the survey also found that the decision to attend Columbia was never made solely by parents. Only 20 percent of parents made a joint decision with students about their college choice.

Love said the survey was inspired by her colleagues and parents of college students, who communicate more frequently with their offspring than 20 years ago because of modern technology, she said.

“Even the fact that there is the will to communicate—that often is a change,” Love said. “When I was in college, there was more of an impulse to get away

from parents.”

Actually, the impulse to get away from parents seems greater today, said Tabatha Robinson, instructor of the Family and Society course and adjunct faculty member in the Humanities, History and Social Sciences Department.

The frequent use of technology as a substitute for face-to-face interactions allows students to avoid confrontation, but still receive the advice they need. That way, students don’t have to abide by rules or unwanted opinions, she said.

With media such as search engines and social networks giving immediate answers, parents are contacted and needed much less than before, Robinson said.

Because parents are expecting a phone call and students prefer texting, communication can misfire, just as at home. Along with being busy, family members who live together often go to their own rooms, TVs and other devices, she said.

“Parents are in their world [and] young people are in their world,” Robinson said. “It’s very difficult because everybody’s leading these separate lives. And technology has allowed that to happen even more.”

Because owning a cell phone and keeping in touch with close ones is so prevalent, a dependency on it could become problematic, Love said.

When walking around without a phone, you could feel perfectly safe. But just because the access to help is available, you feel like you need it, she said.

Students’ dependency on technology doesn’t correlate with their dependency on parents, Robinson said. College students are less emotionally dependent on their families, even though some are financially dependent, she said.

Even so, parents are trying to understand technology more so that they can have a stronger relationship with their child.

“At this point, we can’t take their technology away,” Robinson said. “The reality is, we have to find a way to deal with it and still maintain necessary relationships.”

Compared to other modes of communication, phone calls were favored by 29 percent, while there were only two votes for Skype and one vote for email.

Eddie Barbon, a sophomore film and video major who usually calls his parents once per day, taught them how to use Skype during the course of a week to keep in touch while he was on vacation.

Otherwise, he finds his parents difficult to talk to, he said.

“Since I’ve come to Columbia, there’s a cool, different world [and] different mind besides straightforward thinking,” Barbon said. “It’s difficult to have a conversation with them without getting upset and angry, so it’s a little more challenging.”

Questions of conversation topics were on the survey concerning Columbia experiences.

Approximately two-thirds of parents reported that students did not discuss the nine principles of student success, and three-fourths said Critical Encounters were not discussed.

However, bodies of work and First-Year Seminar were discussed by approximately 60 percent.

Even though two-thirds of the parents said this was not their first child to attend college, the results may have reflected only parents of freshman students, Love said.

In the future, another survey with student input or an evaluation of non-Columbia conversation topics would be interesting to conduct, she said.

A student’s involvement in technology while marching at commencement instead of paying attention to the moment is unforgettable to Love, who said students should live in the moment to avoid getting encapsulated in the digital world.

“Experience it for yourself and communicate about it later,” Love said. “That need to on-the-spot report is something new. It’s something that probably wasn’t foreseen.”