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The Electronic Umbilical Cord: A New Way to Keep In Touch

Constant text messaging keeps Gen Y and their parents connected

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“Straight to boogie and tequila.”

Farrah Aldjufrie, a senior at the University of Southern California, received that text message last week from her father who lives in Bali.

“He speaks broken English because he’s Indonesian,” Aldjufrie says. “He was asking me about my birthday, and I told him I was going out with some friends. That was his response.”

Aldjufrie, like many in Generation Y, constantly contacts her parents through text messaging, about five times a day to her mom, and every other day to her dad.

“It’s the easiest way to keep in contact with my dad because he lives so far away. I can send him a text message, and if it’s really late on his time, he can write me back when he gets up,” she says.

A 2006 Pew survey found that Generation Next—comprised of people born between 1981 and 1988—maintains close contact with family, with about 80 percent saying they talked to their parents in the past day.

Barbara Hofer, a professor of psychology at Middlebury College, explains this phenomenon as “the electronic tether,” an umbilical cord linking parents and children, which leads to a lack of independence. She says, “Some students use text messaging to detach a bit [from their parents], because it’s less personal and interactive.” However, even though they separate in a sense, they still text their parents quite often. One reason for that is money.

“I can text my mom in the middle of class and remind her to put more money in my bank account,” says Sarah Walker, a senior at New York University. Walker taught her mother, Janet, how to text message a couple of years ago when they got their first Blackberries. She now text messages her mother about twice a day. “My mom knows that I am more likely to respond to a text message than a phone call,” says Walker, “because I can text her while I’m doing other things such as watching TV or sitting in class.” In her accounting class the other day, she received a text message from her mother asking her if she fed the dog. Walker was able to respond within five minutes, “Yes, I did.”

Students are in constant contact with their parents at a time, but Professor Hofer’s main concern is that they should be acting independently when they have moved away from home and are in college. The constant contact between parents and children isn’t always beneficial.

“My concerns are about the content of the communication as well as the amount, of course,” says Professor Hofer. “But we have found that overall, students who are in high frequency of contact with their parents are less autonomous than others.”

Walker understands that this has made her less independent, but chooses to maintain frequent contact with her mother. “I definitely talk to my mom at all times of the day,” Walker says, “because even if I call her and she doesn’t pick up, I can send her a text message and I know she will write back almost immediately.”

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sarahb • October 27, 2009


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