The Real Reason We’re Hovering Parents

Huffington Post12/06/13

Associate Chair of the Journalism Department at Emerson College

There’s been some finger-pointing lately about meddlesome parents who will not let go of their off-to-college kids. Colleges are offering incoming freshmen workshops on how to “break up” with their parents. Child-rearing guides are clucking about “snowplow parents.” The Boston Globechronicled the phenomenon of moms and dads still hovering over their children, “leaving their college-age kids anxious, depressed, and ill-equipped to deal with matters both small and large.”

But they’ve got it wrong.

It’s true the modern parents are keeping in closer touch with their matriculated offspring than in the past, thanks to the ease of cellphones, texting and email. But that’s not to pamper Johnny, nor to be solace for a bereft Mom and Dad. The real reason we still hover is more practical: the kids took the secrets to our gadgets.

It’s true. We haven’t so much as lost a son or daughter (they’ll be back at Christmas), as we have lost our Tech Support.

When Jack went off to American University as a freshman this Fall, it slowly dawned on me that he is the administrator for my computer. And his sister’s laptop. And the family desktop.

He is in sole possession of the secret of which remote will make the cable channels come back when they disappear from the TV. He talks IPhone, a language I have not fully mastered. And ITunes, for that matter. Syncing? Call Jack. Problem with software? Where did that kid get to…

Now I don’t want to paint myself — or parents in general — as technological buffoons. I do use technology at work and home, and do my best to master some corners of it. But I admit the rapid changes in consumer device capabilities have left me bewildered, longing for the simplicity of a rotary dial.

So, when I call my son at his college, the conversations are like this:

“Hey, pal. How’s classes? Yeah, great. Now look, can you tell me why my phone keeps showing messages from someone who died five years ago?”

“Jack! Howsitgoing? Wonderful. Do you remember the access code for Netflix?”

“Hi son. I think my laptop is mad at my desktop. They won’t talk to each other. Can you sort it out?”

“Jack. This #!&*! website you created for me won’t let me update it with my new racquetball trophy! Help!”

My son is patient and accommodating, but I do notice lately he has been harder to track down, even electronically, with these pleas. There used to be payphones in the dorms, and you could at least leave a message. Now I’m lucky to get voicemail.

A logical question is why don’t we parents hire our own tech support persons. Aside from the convenience factor — nothing like being able to call our own fixit guy at midnight, knowing he’ll still be up — there is the cost. Who can afford to pay for such services and tuition, too?

If the colleges want us to ease out of our college kids’ lives, I suggest they attack the real problem. I think all parents ought to have 24-hour free phone access to the college tech support help desk. Maybe even a special parents branch of that Help Desk, labeled TSL — technology as a second language. And it could be staffed with student technicians who have been specially trained to hide that inevitable note of exasperation.

We’ll gratefully send ’em cookies, and leave our own kids alone.


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