Cell Phones, Parents, and . . .

. . . .Going to College

by Elizabeth Geiling

The Longest Umbilical Cord
Perhaps, more than any other aspect, technology, and the ability to immediately connect has changed the course of the college student’s relationship with their parents. Particularly, the cell phone which is commonly referred to as “the longest umbilical cord in the world.” Any seasoned college professional can quickly identify the differences in residential college living pre and post cell phone invention.

Too Much Parental Contact?
In previous generations, moving to college involved a separation from the family and regular conversation. One study shows that parents and students communicate on average about 13 times a week (Ramsey et al., 2013). The student is seeking advice and support as opposed to learning how to figure things out for themselves. Studies show that the constant contact with parents has changed the way students communicate with their instructors (Miller-Ott, 2014). Students ask their parents to solve problems they would have previously asked their professors or another college professional.

How much involvement should a parent have with their college-aged student and what type of involvement is helpful?

The over involved parent is believed to have a negative effect on college adjustment. From an institutional perspective, this parental involvement has been largely unwelcomed and believed to be interfering in the launching of the emerging adult. The term helicopter parenting has been used to represent a type of parenting that is high on warmth/support and high on control (Padilla & Nelson, 2012). It appears that parental attempts at behavioral and psychological control result in negative outcome for the emerging adult as they attempt to gain independence (Padilla & Nelson, 2012).

While studying the quality of cell phone conversation between college students and their parents it has been determined that there are distinct constructs in terms of the style of the interaction. Frequent communication during college was especially focused on parental regulation of academics and behavior and this increased the level of dependence (Hofer, et al., 2009). The level of communication between the parent and student has made created and interesting dynamic where the students are feigning college independence, but not really assuming adult tasks or decisions. The parents are regulating and instructing age-appropriate behavior from a distance.

Finances – A Driving Force
The driving force behind this type of parental involvement is that as college costs continue to rise, most families have reached their breaking point in terms of financial contribution and debt.

Parental relationships during college have a longstanding impact on adult life including health, well- being, and appropriate guidance. Positive parental behaviors are significant predictors of less stress and better health, while behaviors that dictate behavioral or psychological controls are problematic (Donelly, et al., 2013).

Finding the Right Balance
The parental relationship can be edifying to the development of self-control and autonomous behavior. At the same time, overparenting and highly involved parenting can interfere with the student’s desire and ability to become an adult. Finding a healthy balance between support and overparenting is important for the health of the family and the future success of the emerging adult.


Dr. Elizabeth Geiling, PhD, LMHC, LPC is an experienced counselor for college, community and school related concerns. Her counseling practice includes early childhood, adolescents, early, middle and late adulthood, and couples. 
Call the Lutheran Counseling Center at 516-741-0994 or 1-800-317-1173 or e-mail us at [email protected] for more information or to set up an appointment.