The Wall Street Journal published the most recent in a long line of articles in the press berating today’s parents and their millennial offspring for remaining over connected as the younger generation emerges into adulthood. In “Mom, Stop Calling, I’ll Text You All Day” the author suggests that millennials should not use modern technology as a way to dump their problems on their parents or constantly seek help. Mothers should not try to communicate too much with their grown children and families should sit down and establish communications boundaries. After all, today’s parents spoke to their parents once a week, briefly, by telephone, and as is oft-repeated, that worked out fine for us…or did it?
Once a Week is Not How Humans Have Communicated, Ever.
Ask anyone over 45 how they communicated with their parents after they left home and out comes a tale of expensive weekly long distance calls, conversations cuts short by cost-conscious parents and the defiant independence that comes with finding yourself young, alone and living in a strange city.
But this weekly calling is a byproduct of the second half of the 20th century and does not square with the rest of human history. For all of time families have lived in tribes, villages and, later, towns. They lived in small collectives in which the younger generations saw their elders on an almost daily basis. Even after families were dispersed it was not unusual for them to write letters on a daily or at least regular basis. Technology allows us to go back to that village to the regular communication that kept families close.
Parents as mentors
Is it any coincidence that the decline of parent-adult child communications coincided with the desperate search for mentors. Parents are our original mentors and in an earlier era they were lifelong mentors. “Mom, Stop Calling” suggested that it is unfair for grown children to “dump” their problems on their parents. But is that what they are doing? Sometimes our children ask little more of us that we listen to their troubles. Sometimes they are looking for a few words of advice or confirmation of a decision they have made. Just because they are sharing their problems does not mean they are asking us to fix them. They feel better and we are closer when they let us into their lives, problems and all.
Twenty Text a Day?
The WSJ article made an example of a young man who texted his mother up to 20 times a day. I have watched my kids text. Twenty texts would take them less than a minute. There would be no disruption in their lives, no damage to their workday. Sometimes their texts do not even come with words. They see something, know it will have meaning for me or simply make me laugh and they just send a photo. For just a second it is as if are back in their strollers pointing at something new, and I am smiling and nodding. A minute later we have all returned to our adult lives
Texting, and its communication cousins, seems the perfect way for young adults and teens to stay connected, but not over connected to their parents. The format, with its short bursts of information, keeps us in their lives without interfering with their lives. As long as our children are gradually taking on the trappings of adulthood, with the capacity for independent decision-making and income generation, I am pretty sure we should be happy that they just want to stay close.