When my first kid went away to college, one of the things I looked forward to the most was going to campus to visit him. We frequent the campus anyway because we’re huge fans of their athletic programs, but I thought, “How great is it going to be now because we’re going to be able to see him several times during college football season!”
But before we headed up for the first football game (and our first unofficial visit to see our boy), a very wise friend who already had kids go through college said to me, “Now, don’t be surprised if you don’t even end up seeing him this weekend.” I was a bit taken aback and a little confused, so I asked her what she meant. Surely my son missed me as much as I missed him, and I was certain he was eagerly awaiting our arrival and would want to hang out with his parents for the weekend, right?
When your teen is too busy to call you back
It turns out that my friend was absolutely, 100% correct (as most “been there done that moms” usually are), and my son barely had five minutes in his “schedule” that weekend to meet up with his old mom and dad. We visited several more times that semester, and even during the college’s official “Parent’s Weekend,” we barely caught more than 15 minutes with him. He was just “too busy” or had already made plans.
I was dumbfounded and proceeded to do all the new college mom things, which included panicking over nothing and questioning this new and unfamiliar behavior he was exhibiting. Did something happen? Is he in a cult? Who were these new friends taking up all of his time? Why doesn’t he want to hang with us? Should I be worried?
All of those thoughts and questions were, of course, unwarranted worries because the only “new thing” going on in his life was COLLEGE. And what I had yet to comprehend and accept was that college (and the social environment around it) would now be the number one thing supporting his village.
Sadly for me, where I once stood at the end of his every school day now stood roommates, classmates, dorm neighbors, and thousands of other people, places, and experiences that were his to both embrace and gain support from.
What I had to learn was that when our kids go to college and slowly begin to socially separate from our daily lives (or quickly separate, depending on the kid) that kind of separation is actually a GOOD thing because the opposite of that is kids who don’t find their people on campus and are willingly (and in many cases unwillingly-perhaps to the detriment of their mental well-being), hanging on to emotional ties with parents that should have been cut already.
We worry about the kids who struggle with things like homesickness, loneliness, and bouts of sadness, depression, or anxiety because they feel disconnected from campus culture. But the kids who have vibrant and blossoming social lives?
The kids putting themselves out there and joining clubs and organizations, playing intramural sports, participating in resident hall events, and joining study groups become “too busy” to hang out with mom and dad and too busy to return texts. And guess what? That is a very good thing and exactly what you want.
In reality, we should want our kids not to be able to return our texts immediately because their social calendars are full. Most large universities’ primary goal is to get freshmen involved with campus activities (and hence, very social) as much as possible. It’s why resident hall advisors host dorm get-togethers and physically escort freshmen to student organization fairs. It’s also why colleges have “new student programs departments” that regularly sponsor, fund, and host a variety of social interaction opportunities during the entire year, not just for freshmen.
Studies have shown that students who maintain active social lives on campus, and are involved in clubs or organizations, receive the kind of social peer support that can ward off feelings of loneliness or isolation and, ultimately, can foster better and more positive mental health outcomes for all students.
So, the next time you text your college kid and hours, days, and maybe even a week goes by without a decent reply because “I’m too busy with college stuff, Mom!” don’t sweat it. Be grateful that their days are filled with friends, fun, and maybe even an actual study group or two.
Let go of your need for instant communication. And don’t worry, they’ll call you soon enough, as soon as their pizza fund runs dry.
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