During my four years of college, my mom spoke to exactly one other parent whose child attended the same university.
She met the mother of my best friend. They got along well, but they lived in different cities, so that meeting was the end of their interactions. The extent of communication my parents received about my college life was a weekly long-distance phone call from me.
This is not to say that my parents were unconcerned or uninterested in my life at that time. Back then, parenting was more of a hands-off experience. That was especially true once you dropped off a kid at a college campus.
"Good luck and stay out of trouble" was the general guidance given to us.
Now, we can join private Facebook groups dedicated to the school our child attends. I started joining these groups when my kids were in middle school; they were a good place to keep up with school news or upcoming events I wouldn’t otherwise hear about. I also picked up the school gossip through this online grapevine.
Of course, there’s always some drama when a large group of people gather -- especially virtually. Even that could be entertaining to watch unfold.
I did wonder about the parents who volunteered to moderate these groups, though. Did they ever log off?
When our kids moved up to high school and became more involved in extracurricular activities, I joined the parents’ groups for those organizations. That was in addition to the parents’ pages for the high school itself -- both the official and unofficial versions.
Pretty soon, my Facebook feed was littered with posts from parents I didn’t know personally but whose kids shared something in common with ours, even if it was just attending the same school.
I didn’t expect that this firehose of information would keep flowing when the kids left for college, but it has. Surprisingly, the posts from parents have become more frequent, and more revealing, as their children have gotten older. Parents share about their college kids’ social adjustment issues, loneliness, roommate troubles, course scheduling problems and cafeteria complaints.
It’s hard to imagine my own parents knowing such details about my life when I was that age, let alone sharing them with hundreds of my classmates’ parents. I would have died a thousand deaths if they had revealed that kind of information about me.
But we are in a different era of parenting. We are conditioned to be more involved, solving more problems for our children -- even when it deprives them of learning how to deal with their own challenges and discomforts.
I remember getting a horrible toothache during my freshman year: I had to find a nearby dentist, figure out how to get there, get the tooth extracted and deal with the bill and the aftercare. When my daughter had a toothache at the beginning of her junior year, I asked for advice on the parents’ page and had a list of vetted recommendations in minutes.
A recent Wall Street Journal article described how parents are hiring concierge services to “mother” their college students, doing the sort of tasks a mom might have done at home. It seems like these parents are hiring a cross between an emotional support animal and a butler. The extremely wealthy one-percenters among us have always had access to these types of services, but now this level of handholding has trickled down to the masses.
This does both parents and their children a disservice. A huge part of being a young adult is learning how to function independently. While our parents had little choice but to leave us to our own devices, our generation seems to struggle to give our children the same freedom from parental oversight.
To be fair, many of us are now writing hefty tuition checks, adding a greater layer of financial investment to the situation. The stakes for students also feel much higher. But giving them space to find their way through some challenging situations gives them the confidence that they are capable.
It’s tempting to follow the travails of college life through social media posts from your fellow parents, who may be as anxious as you are about letting go.
However, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.