Not all phone calls are the same.
We have so many ways to communicate with our college students these days that phone calls may be less frequent. According to Barbara Hofer, author of the book The iConnected Parent, parents and students communicate an average of 13.4 times per week — but that didn’t include texting! Many students and parents text each other anywhere from several times per day to once a week or so.
As long as both you and your student are comfortable and agree on the amount, occasional check-ins are good for all of us.
With the ease and immediacy of texting, phone calls (or Zoom, Facetime or Skype) with our students have become more rare. They take more effort and coordination and involve more extended conversations. But sometimes, there’s nothing like hearing the other person’s voice.
(Some of us remember when communicating with your parents from college meant writing an actual letter — complete with envelope and stamp — and waiting several days for a reply. Or standing in line for your turn in the one phone booth on your hallway to make a collect call home. Those of us who remember that are truly dinosaurs!)
Phone calls with our students are great for checking in, hearing their voice, and having a real conversation — and students enjoy and need this contact as well.
It’s important to remember that not all phone calls are the same.
Students call, or we call them, for many different reasons. The reason your student calls will make a difference in how you handle the call. Listen carefully to why they are calling. It may not always be obvious at first. Once you determine why your student is calling, you’ll be better able to respond.
”I’m homesick.” Your student may or may not be able, or willing, to articulate that they are homesick, but they’re sad, miserable, or just missing home.
”I’m sick.” If your student is sick they may not be not sure what to do. If your student has never been responsible for deciding whether to see a doctor or visit the health center or take care of a fever on their own, they may want advice and reassurance.
”I have great news!” Something wonderful has happened and your student just wants to share their excitement. We all love getting these phone calls. Celebrate!
”I need to tell you something.” This is often not news that you want to hear. Something may have happened to your student, they may be in trouble, or they may have news about someone or something else. They may be nervous or uncomfortable sharing the news. Take your time before you respond.
”I need money.” Ah, yes. The classic phone call from college students. How you respond to this one will depend on what arrangement you and your student have agreed upon in terms of cash. Whether you write a check, send money with conditions, or say no will be a personal decision. It helps if you’re prepared for the call.
”I had a fight . . .” with my roommate/significant other/best friend. Your student may still be angry, or feeling that their social world is falling apart. They need you to listen and empathize — but may or may not want advice.
”I’m overwhelmed.” There are times during the semester when many students feel overwhelmed by all that they need to do. It’s just too much. They may want help figuring out how to proceed or they may just want to vent.
”I got a terrible grade.” Some students are reluctant to share their grades with parents — especially if they aren’t the best. Other students need to talk about it. If your student calls with this news, you may need to help them think about next steps — or just encourage them not to give up.
”I need advice.” Part of being away at college is learning to be responsible for yourself and all that life entails. Your student may need life advice. ”How do I get a stain out of my best shirt?” ”How do I talk to a professor who intimidates me?” ”How do I renew my driver’s license when I’m not home?” Try to remember what it was like to attempt to make your way in the world.
”I just need to touch base.” Sometimes, we don’t really have a reason for reaching out — or we don’t know our reason — but we just need to hear someone’s voice.
”You said I needed to call.” When our kids went away to college, we called this the ”duty” call or the ”proof of life” call. We insisted that they call us once a week. They chose the time – usually late in the day on a Sunday. Sometimes we had a wonderful, extended conversation and sometimes they had two minutes on their way to dinner. But it was our ”touch base” time. They may not have admitted at the time that they enjoyed those calls, but I believe they often did.
Whatever reasons your student has for calling home, it’s good to connect and communicate. Use the call to do a lot of listening to determine what may be on your student’s mind. Then you’ll be ready to respond. Remember that, sometimes, all they need you to do is to listen.
Be glad they’re calling.