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“My College Student Never Calls!” Why No News Is Good News

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: They won’t text you, 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, all right, 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 check-in phone call from my college days, and what a drag it was carefully not telling my parents everything I was up to. And 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.

My College Student Never Calls

I’ve learned from a combined 11 years of parenting a college-age kid that they will not answer you if your text is merely a pretext 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 elaborately 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 will usually ping 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.

how often do college students 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. First flu/food poisoning/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 what he really seems to want is simply for you to know that he feels terrible, to feel badly for him, and possibly 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 is never a good thing. Thankfully our kids have been trained (after a lot of experience with potholes, parking lot scratch 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. Cars can be replaced—people can’t.
  3. Money. Enough said.
  4. It’s the day before break, and they have no way to get home. 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. I’ve got a job offer! 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 he or she never calls, 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, thank you, and be grateful to assume that everyone is where they should be, working hard, and maturing into self-sufficient adults. Maybe no news is good news, after all.

Jane Parent

Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.