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Parent to Parent Wisdom

Old School vs New School – Communicating with your kid

By Chris Lowe, Proud Boise State Dad

Before I left for college way back in 1989, my dad gave me sage advice when he said to always look someone in the eye when talking to them, greet everyone with a firm handshake, and give thoughtful answers to questions. Communicating was done in-person or on the phone, there were far fewer ways to interact with one other.

When I was in college, communicating with my family was done in-person or on the phone – still connected by wires to a wall (and occasionally requiring a quarter). Today, there are hundreds of ways to communicate through one small phone in my pocket. Navigating the communication landscape can be challenging when figuring out the best way to be involved in your adult child’s life.

During the winter holiday I was fortunate to spend time with my son, a Boise State sophomore. To say he has changed “a little” in the last 18 months would be a gross understatement. The boy I sent to Idaho came home this winter a confident man, glowing in the early stages of his first serious relationship. I have never been prouder of his decisions, growth and maturity but with this newfound maturity came communication challenges.

No longer was I communicating with my teenage son about borrowing the car or staying out past curfew but with a young man who has earned the right to make his own rules. He has raised his game, and it was time for me to do the same, but I struggled with how best to communicate effectively in this new, fast-paced social media world in a way that he would welcome and understand.

Most nights, I can hear my younger son (still in high school) talking with his brothers while they play Fortnite, late into the night. Even though those conversations take place 800 miles apart, they always seem more involved and detailed than the one-word responses I typically get. I must admit, I am not the best gamer, so I knew that wasn’t going to work for me. I decided to reach out to Matt Niece and Lauren Oe, who both oversee professional student support teams at Boise State, and ask them for tips on communicating with my adult son.

Matt mentioned that being transparent with your child and admitting that you don’t know exactly what’s needed from you or how to make sure they know you’re there for them (without overstepping) can be a powerful act of leadership by example. We have an opportunity to model that staying close to the people we love can mean awkwardly admitting that we’re not sure what to do or say, but we are sure about our dedication to the relationship. Being authentic and transparent with your college student demonstrates that you see them as adults, deserving of respect.

Again, this was unfamiliar and a little uncomfortable in contrast to how I was raised. Needless to say, it did not come naturally to me. I also struggled with how often I should call. Lauren Oe, in the Dean of Students Office, said each student is different and you should do your best to tailor your frequency to their needs. Communicating with your child is important but so is making sure your student is connecting with other classmates and clubs on campus and not using relationships with parents as a crutch. Being active on campus is key to a successful academic experience. My son made the hockey team and with that came structure, a peer group, a support system, and friends. Lauren explained that every student needs to find their way but joining a club or group on campus can make a huge difference for positive mental health outcomes.

After some trial and error, I decided to call once a week but text any time that I had a thought that I wanted to share. It’s fun to drop in on his day with a photo or snarky meme and it has engaged him in unexpected ways. In the end, reliable and consistent communication in any form is key to a student’s success and to a good relationship with your adult child.

A lot has changed since my college days, but a lot has stayed the same. Learning to communicate with your adult child in the 21st century can be challenging but worth the effort. Seeing your child as an adult and respecting them as such will help them succeed in life and at Boise State.

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