The medium is the message, Marshall McLuhan famously noted. And in a touch screen world, our relationships with our adult children improve with the more communications media we use. While millennials enjoy chatting on the phone or Skype, they also want parents to “lurk” on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media so we can follow (not intrusively, though) their lives.
That’s the finding of a study by University of Kansas doctoral student Jennifer Schon. “We found that young adults were happier and more satisfied in their relationships with their parents the more communication channels parents are using,” Schon said in a recent phone chat.
The most popular methods, in order, were voice calls (mobile or Skype), text messaging and email. Young adults wanted to hear a parent's voice, even if it was just for a quick hello or good night. “Most millennials like a short voice call where the parent says, ‘I am thinking of you,’ or ‘I know you still exist,’ ” Schon said with a laugh. “They don’t like a long conversation; keep short and to the point.”
While talk is good, the study found that relationships improved if parents were also using nonverbal communication, such as texting, email or Facebook. Each serves a different purpose. Texting is useful for the quick-hit message. Email tends to be used for more serious conversations. “Millennials used email to avoid tough conversations over phone," Schon says. It reduced the blunt of a blow."
Facebook and Instagram provide a TV show of sorts where parents watch but don’t comment. When they do talk with their children, they're caught up on the episodes of lives, so to speak. Apparently adult children like it when parents reference in a conversation something they observed online.
Whatever the medium, parents, especially moms, are spending a lot of time interacting with their children. The study found that moms average 312 minutes a week on all channels of communication and dads 194 minutes. That’s probably because women tend to text and talk and go online for personal as well as professional reasons while men use communication technology more for business. Schon’s findings echoed a recent Clark University study that found that 67 percent of moms and 51 percent of dads are in contact with their kids “every day or almost every day.”
Still, some parents prefer not to "friend" their children on Facebook. That still leaves other apps such as Twitter to follow a child’s take on everything from breakfast to breaking news, or Instagram, which is like a slideshow of his or her life. New apps appear every day, and Schon suggests that parents embrace technology because it can greatly enhance the parent-child relationship.
While some may wonder if this constant communication is going to make millennials too dependent on their parents, other research has indicated just the opposite.
“The closer bonds between young adults and their parents should be celebrated, and do not necessarily compromise the independence of the next generation,” researchers Karen Fingerman and Frank F. Furstenberg wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “Young adults who received financial, practical and emotional support from their parents reported clearer life goals and more satisfaction than young adults who received less parental support.”
So text, type and swipe to your heart’s content.
Mary W. Quigley’s blog, Mothering21, tackles parenting of emerging adults and beyond.
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