So your son or daughter is at college. Maybe you find yourself partly worried, partly miffed because you’re thinking “My college student never calls.” Well, I have news for you: Mine didn’t text me, either.
Ever want to feel how completely irrelevant you are to your college kid’s daily life? Go ahead: Text them.
Try something harmless like “How’s class going today?” Or “Got any weekend plans?” <Crickets.> Oh, they received your text. They just chose not to answer. You’ve been de-prioritized and they aren’t even trying to hide it from you.
I try to respect their space, I really do. I remember that regular Sunday night phone call from my college days, and what a drag it was carefully not telling my parents everything I was up to. It’s not as if I’m actually trying to speak to them, either. And I respect their generational loathing and avoidance of talking on the telephone. But every four or five days, I get itchy. I just want proof of life. Just text your mother and let me know that you’re alive, eating okay, and maybe even studying.
I’ve learned from a combined 11 years of parenting college-aged kids that they don’t answer texts that are merely pretexts for a long-distance nag. “Studying hard for midterms?” or “Make sure you are being careful walking back late at night” or “Are you eating any vegetables?” Don’t even bother wasting data to send that kind of well-meaning but eminently ignorable parental inquiry. Jokes, updates on your doings at home in an attempt to start up a conversation? Those don’t really work, either. When they completely ignore my intentionally casual, “Happy Friday!” or “Haven’t heard from you in a few days, just checking in,” sometimes I can get a little sarcastic. “Still alive? Trapped under something heavy?” or “Well, I don’t CARE about your midterm!” may get a reply, but my kids were weaned on sarcasm and that usually pings right off of them.
Occasionally, I’ve conducted my own little passive aggressive experiments. Like the time I changed the Netflix password on a Friday night, and heard from all three kids within the hour. Or when my husband and I sent a selfie from one of our empty nester weekend getaways captioned “We don’t miss you!” Or when I sent the kid who hates anyone going into his room a photo of the dog sprawled out sleeping on his bed.
Things that always get a response? Photos of food. Snapchatting our meals back and forth to each other may be our only communication for weeks on end. Cute photos of our pets, movie reviews, and group texts making fun of me are also very popular.
But phone calls? Forget about it.
When do college kids call home?
The obvious downside of text-based communication is that now when the phone does ring, I’ve been conditioned to see it as a cause for alarm. It only means bad news or something that is going to cost us money. In my experience, college kids only pick up the phone and actually call in the following circumstances:
1. I’m sick.
When he don’t feel well, your college kid is absolutely 100% certain to call you and tell you. Flu, food poisoning, or situation requiring antibiotics? He feels miserable, and he wants you to know in vivid detail exactly how bad his vomiting, diarrhea, or sinus infection is. He will, of course, ignore any advice you give him about going to the school clinic or taking Tylenol Cold & Flu (“Nah, I’ll be fine”) because all he really wants is for you to know that he feels terrible and for you to feel badly for him. (He’s hoping you’ll to send food.)
2. Car accidents.
This kind of call always comes at a non-standard time like 11 pm on a Friday night or 6:10 on a Monday morning, and it’s never a good thing. Thankfully our kids have been trained (after a lot of experience with potholes, parking lot scratches and dents, and flat tires in high school) to lead with “I’m fine.” These calls always give you that horrible icy-cold feeling of adrenaline, followed by the deep sense of relief that washes over you when you hear they’re okay.
4. No transportation plans before break.
Know this: If you choose to answer this phone call, the very next sentence will be, “Can you come pick me up?” Let this call go to voicemail and see if delay will encourage them to try a little harder to find a ride.
5. Job offers!
This kind of call has happened to me three times. Let’s be honest, these are absolutely delightful phone calls. No, they are the best phone calls.
So if you’ve been brooding that they never call, don’t worry. You didn’t call yours very often either, remember? And really, it may even be preferable. Phone calls are the harbingers of expensive or anxiety-producing news. So I’ll just accept those infrequent texts, and be grateful that everyone is where they should be, working hard, and maturing into self-sufficient adults. Maybe no news is good news, after all.