We hear a lot these days about helicopter parents, and we hear a lot about the growing amount of communication between college parents and their college students. This growing communication takes many forms — and is generally two-way communication. Parents aren’t the only ones doing the calling. Parents and their college students are often encouraged to limit their communication to enable college students to separate, make transitions, and become independent.
But what if too much communication with your college student isn’t your problem? What if all communication with your college student feels one-way? You call, text, e-mail — and you get no response. Your student doesn’t pick up your calls or return messages or e-mails. You may be frustrated, worried, or just plain angry. It may help if you give some thought to why your student may not be communicating much, as well as what you can do, and shouldn’t do, to help increase the chances that your student will communicate more.
In this post, we’ll consider some of the reasons why your student may not be contacting you as much as you think that they should. In our next post, we’ll look at some suggestions for improving the amount and quality of contact with your student.
Why aren’t you hearing from your college student?
- The first thing to consider may be whether your expectations are realistic. How much do you expect your student to communicate? Are you hoping to hear from them every day, or multiple times each day? Try tempering your expectations. The problem may not be that your student never communicates, but that it never seems to be enough to live up to your expectations.
- Your student may be working on their independence. Although you know that your student can be independent and still call or write, they may be experimenting with how this new independence works. Your student is asserting their right to choose whether to call, or when to call. You may need to talk about this, allowing your student the choice of when to call. Make it clear that you need to hear from them — but that they have control over when and how (perhaps with some limits).
- Your student may be homesick and know that calling and talking to you will only make them feel worse. They may not want to let on to you how much they miss you and how unhappy they are. If this is the reason, the communication blackout may be only temporary. Once they are feeling a little better, they will be more willing to call and talk. Remind yourself that some homesickness is normal.
- Far from being homesick, your student may not call because they are so busy having a good time, getting schoolwork done and generally being involved on campus. Each day goes by and they haven’t had time to focus on being in touch. Remember that this is probably the adjustment you had hoped for.
- Things may not be going well for your student at school. Your student may be struggling in classes, having difficulty making friends, or may have been disciplined for a behavioral issue. (Remember that parents will not necessarily be notified about poor grades or discipline issues.) Your student may not be calling you because they don’t want to tell you about what is going on and they don’t want to be in a position to lie to you.
- Your student may not call you because of the tone of the conversation when they do. This may be hard to hear. You may need to think carefully about what happens during the phone calls that do occur. Do you grill your student about every aspect of their life? Do you remind them constantly of everything they should, or shouldn’t, be doing? Do you constantly make them feel guilty that they aren’t doing better, coming home more, calling more, etc? It may be easier for your student to avoid these calls.
There are many different reasons why your student may not be returning your phone calls. From a parent perspective, none of these reasons may be acceptable, but it may help to think about them from the student perspective. It is important for parents to recognize that there are many different reasons why you may not be hearing from your student, and your response may need to change depending on the reason. It may also be important that you talk to your student about why they don’t call — and about why you feel you need to hear from them occasionally. When you have that conversation, be sure that you are doing as much listening as talking.
We’re not suggesting that you accept your student’s reasons for not calling, but rather that you keep it in perspective and let your student know that you need some kind of communication from him. Work together to decide what form that communication will take and how often it will happen.
In our next post, we’ll look at some suggestions for what not to do if your student isn’t calling, as well as some possible suggestions for improving the amount and quality of contact with your student.