According to a study conducted by researchers at Ball State University, 99.8% of college students own cell phones and the number of smartphones is increasing. That’s a lot of phones. But the majority of students use their phones, not for phone calls, but for text messaging. 94% of students say they text every day while only 73% say they make phone calls every day. According to another study, conducted by the Pew Foundation, 18-29 years olds text an average of 109.5 times per day, or more than 3200 texts per month. But college students are not entirely alone. The use of text messaging among 45-54 year olds has increased by 75% and 31% of adults prefer texts to phone calls.
So cell phones are everywhere — and they are being used for texting more than for phone calls. Texting certainly has many advantages in many situations. Texting is quick — no need for niceties, texting can be thoughtful because there is time to think and edit before replying, texting is practical and transactional, texting can wait for a convenient time and doesn’t interrupt anyone unless that person chooses to read it.
So why, then, should you bother to call your college student?
We are not suggesting that parents shouldn’t send, or expect, text messages from their college student. With all of its advantages, texting is a great means of staying in touch. Texting can even be the perfect method to arrange a convenient time for a phone call. But a phone call can provide some important qualities that texting cannot. Here are a few things to consider when you are tempted to use texting or e-mail as your only means to stay in touch.
- Because everyone uses text messages so much of the time, a phone call has become more meaningful. A phone call can be a special form of communication between you and your student — something different from the normal routine.
- A phone call can simply provide you — and your student — with a warm feeling. There is still nothing like hearing someone’s voice.
- A phone call can give you a sense of what the other person is feeling through the nonverbal communication that happens through tone of voice — and sometimes through the silences and pauses. There is less room for misunderstanding.
- Phone calls allow for immediate follow up questions to dig deeper into what someone has to say or to clarify the message. There may be fewer misunderstandings.
- Both you and your student may have more to say during a phone call because it is still easier to talk to each other than to text. Difficult conversations or topics may still be difficult, but the effort involved is speaking is less. Both of you may be able to share more.
- There is an immediacy to a phone call that may not be there in a text message. It is sometimes a good thing to be able to think carefully and edit your response before you send it, but there is also a value to the spontaneity and immediacy of saying what you are thinking and feeling in the moment — before you edit your thoughts.
- Taking time for a good conversation helps your student build his communication skills. The next time that they have a phone interview for a job or internship, or an in-person interview or meeting with a professor, or need to chat with someone at a college or professional function, your student may be more skilled thanks to some of the conversations you have had. Some studies have suggested that today’s students are having more difficulty with interpersonal communication because so much of their communication is filtered through electronic media. Much like many other skills, the more you practice, the better you become at it.
Both texting and e-mail have provided parents and college students with some wonderful opportunities to stay in touch frequently and meaningfully. But as a college parent, you might think about when and how you communicate with your college student. Of course, you want to give your student space and independence, but take advantage of an occasional phone call to create a stronger connection. Take advantage of texting to arrange a time to talk — college students have a bias against the unexpected phone call — but arrange a conversation.
Being willing to engage in what MIT psychologist Sherry Turkle calls the ”complexity and messiness of human communication” can help to strengthen your relationship with your student. Pick up the phone. Have a talk.