Technology keeps kids tethered to their parents longer than previous generations

Keeping close contact with parents might not be a good thing, experts say.

The big deadline for high school seniors to choose a college has passed, and parents’ thoughts are turning toward the joy of less laundry or the agony of how to pay the bills — and perhaps toward how much they’ll be in touch with their sons and daughters come September.

It was not so long ago that parents drove a teenager to campus, said a tearful goodbye and returned home to wait a week or so for a phone call from the dorm. Mom or Dad, in turn, might write letters — yes, with pens. On stationery.

But going to college these days means never having to say goodbye, thanks to near-saturation of cell phones, eMail, instant messaging, texting, Facebook, and Skype.

Researchers are looking at how new technology might be delaying the point at which college-bound students truly become independent from their parents, and how phenomena such as the introduction of unlimited calling plans have changed the nature of parent-child relationships—and not always for the better.

Students walking from biology class to the gym can easily fill a few minutes with a call to Mom’s office to whine about a professor’s lecture. Dad can pass along family news via eMail. Daily text messaging is not uncommon.

How nice, you might think.

And you might be right. Some research suggests that today’s young adults are closer to their parents than their predecessors.

But it’s complicated. Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology whose specialty is technology and relationships, calls this a particular sort of “Huck Finn moment,” in which Huck “takes his parents with him. We all sail down the Mississippi together.”

From the electronic grade monitoring many high schools offer parents, it seems a small leap to keep electronic track of their (adult) children’s schedules or to send reminders about deadlines or assignments. Professors have figured out that some kids are eMailing papers home for parents to edit.