College Bound Kids?: Keeping in Touch Across Time Zones

Part two of a series of four – suggest you pour a cup of coffee and kick back, this is a bit of a long one. It’s a tough subject.

You’re now into the final days/ weeks before college starts and wondering how often you’ll be able to speak to your child, what will be the best way to keep in touch, worrying about the fine balance between too much/ too little contact in the early days.

Have you actually sat down and talked about this with them?

Obvious I know, but you both need to have the same level of expectation. I’m not talking about setting rigid times or dates, rather a general feeling for how you both want to handle this situation.

Whatever you decide will change once college and school commitments are scheduled, but if you have a feel for what is going to work, being flexible down the line should be no problem.

The biggest issue after how often you’ll be in touch will be what social medium you’ll use to communicate. It used to be simple, not so these days. The expectations you have may not be the same as your child’s and it may take some open and frank discussion on both sides for everyone to be happy.

As  a high schooler your child will have been used to contacting you by cell phone or SMS which is great when you’re all on home turf, not so easy with an 6-hour plus time difference. They may live on Facebook, you may have refused to go there. You live by email, they no longer use it. You may need to hear their voice, see their face but that may be their idea of hell, especially if your teetotal angel is nursing the mother of all hangovers.

Sit down, be open to all possibilities, maybe review your expectations and everyone will benefit. Like everything else, you and your family are unique, you have to find what works best for you in your circumstances.

Mobile/ Cell Phones/ Texting: Seriously, this is a mine field

In a perfect world, where money is no object then every child would be clutching an i-phone or at very least a Blackberry. Once the preserve of captains of industry who could actually afford to have them, they are now every teens must-have item.

I shall sit on the fence a moment and point out that what parents see as extravagant our children see as an essential items. For Generation Y the i-phone is an electronic time management tool and a pretty good one at that. They are the generation who regard spreadsheets and word documents as pencils.

I-phones and Blackberrys require a phone contract and this is where the water starts to get muddy. This will apply to any cell phone with a contract. You need to investigate whether it would be better to get one in the country where you currently live, assuming you will be staying there while your child is in college, or looking at a contract in the country where they’ll be studying. The downside to that is you probably won’t have it up and running before they arrive on campus.

You need to be very clear what you want on that contract, how it’s going to be used. International calling? Unlimited texts? Number of minutes per month? Internet connection? Do they pay for incoming international calls? Read the small print, get to know it by heart because over the next three to four years this phone  will be the bane of your life.

Every child will want an i-phone if the offer is on the table. Of course they do, and if they’re paying for the phone and the contract out of their own funds fantastic. It’s an interesting fact, known to most parents, that if a child has to put up their own money for either the phone or running costs, the majority will find a better use for it.

Let’s get realistic , as parents often thousands of miles from offspring, you will provide your child with a phone for your peace of mind. My advice would be make sure you factor the costs of any contract phone into the college budget and view it as part of the overall cost.

The cold reality of your child having an expensive phone is that it will catch the eye of any light fingered soul in a five mile radius. Your child will go over their minutes/texts by at least a $100 per month. There will be moments they use it not realising some aspects are not included in the monthly fee. We had friends whose daughter had a $3000 (yes, three thousand dollars) bill one month as she’d been downloading from the Internet assuming the cost was covered in the contract.

(Before we start on the stupidity of kids, an employee in the Captain’s company ran up a $74000 phone bill on a business trip last year downloading World Cup soccer games.)

Being practical, down-to-earth and a techno dinosaur my preference (from costly experience) is buy a local pay-as-you-go phone the minute they on campus and load it up to an amount you all agree is reasonable. They can text if they want you to call and your stress levels will be manageable. If they don’t like the idea they can save up for their own state-of-the-art status symbol, which they will lose, have stolen or break. Guaranteed. This avoids 2 year contracts, unexpected excess usage, and wasted money because although slightly more expensive there won’t be unexpected huge bills. They won’t like it, but it will do the job.

If you are setting up a contract phone in the country of study it’s always worth getting a pay as you go phone when you arrive until things are sorted out. They can switch the SIM card from the P-A-Y-G phone in their existing phones if the embarrassment is too great.

If you don’t have strong feelings either way on this issue use it as a negotiating tool ‘you can have an iphone if…  ‘.

It may be hard for your child to appreciate but there will be students on campus who will not be equipped with state of the art phones or computers, despite what they tell you.

Unless it’s an iphone or blackberry a cell/ mobile will mainly be used for texting as verbal communication is no longer the done thing, and cost for international calls can be high. The time difference will also play havoc with calls. In our family our children would call us to see if we were around and we would call them back. We still do, although the eldest are now in gainful employment. Hmm.

If I’m asked, and I often am, which I think is the best communication tool for a parent it will be a computer – if I had to chose between a child having a fancy phone or a lap-top, I’d go for the laptop every time.

Why?

Because it gives more options to keep in touch than a phone (unless it is a  smart phone or blackberry and I’m not totally convinced) for both of you, especially with a time difference.

●Options for Communicating via Computer

Skype: this will be your medium of choice. It’s free and you can use it just to talk, or as a video link.

Most people are familiar with Skype if they’ve lived overseas, but it may be new to some of you. Google it. You can schedule a call every week or so and plan to sit and chat; in our family Skype is on, the lap top sat on the kitchen counter and we chat while I’m cooking dinner. Great for your child to watch regular life at home, see the family pet wander past, snipe at siblings.

From your point of view you can see them in their new surroundings and they can show you things they’ve bought, how they’ve decorated their room.

Be prepared to face some opposition to Skype initially. Until they feel settled they may feel you’re wanting to invade their new independent space. Don’t push it, keep it on a back-burner until they’re ready.

Email: when did your child last email anyone? We parents use it as a matter of course, but most kids have moved on to other social media and rarely use it to communicate with each other. It’s no good getting frustrated with them for not checking emails regularly. They will email if they have internet connection on their phones as it takes no effort to check it.

Email can be sent at any time and read at the recipients leisure. If your child needs frequent contact in the early weeks you can make sure there’s an email in the inbox when they wake up. I’m not talking a novel here, or an update on the a daily activities of all family members, the weather, the dog vomiting or a conversation with the neighbours. Something as simple as

‘Good morning you, hope the presentation/ lecture/ meeting goes well. Thinking of you, have a great day, loads of love xxx.’ Innocuous, normal, the kind of thing you’d say as they’re walking out the door in the morning on their way to school.

They can reciprocate – leaving you an email to let you know they’re back safe from a trip, had a good grade, made a new friend – and it will be there for you in the morning (assuming they’re west of you). When Harry is on his travels he sends a one word message every few days – ‘ALIVE!’

Email is wonderful but it doesn’t give you a real feel for how your child is doing, they can be good at covering up homesickness or depression in a lively email home. Make sure emails are balanced with voice contact – they can’t disguise their voice so well.

Facebook and Social Media: Stop groaning and look at the positives

You hate Facebook, curse the time your kids spend on it, can’t see the point? Just read that again – your kids spend their life on it. If you want to know where they are and what they’re doing this will the key, but not in the way you think.

Many of you will have Facebook accounts and those that do will extol the virtues of keeping in touch with friends round the world and sharing photos with family and friends without having to email everyone individually. Like anything it has it’s good and bad points – I suggest you ignore the bad and embrace the good.

For those of you who are already linked with their children via Facebook, congratulations you don’t need to read further on this topic!

If you haven’t got a Facebook account yet, set one up. It’s as secure and as virus free as you chose to make it. Be cool. When the time is right open negotiations for being their friend on Facebook. The initial reaction may be frosty. This is a serious threat to personal space and privacy. Tell them if they ever decide to be your Facebook friend you promise

● any communication you have with them will be done privately, through ‘message’ not splattered all over their wall

●you will never make comments on their wall, join in conversations or ‘like’ anything they do

●you will not be spending time looking through photographs

●you will never judge or make comments on anything seen on their Facebook page. Ever

Your child may not be keen so don’t push it. If they refuse, accept their decision. As time goes by and trust developes this might change. You will still be able to send them a message privately if you need to get hold of them and phone contact has failed.

If you are already friends with your child stick to the rules. You can check their page anonymously, view their photos check out their friends. Discreetly. You will never make any comment on what is on their page, their behaviour or things they say to other friends.

What you will gain is a real sense of their life and their new friends, even if they haven’t been in touch with you. You may feel disappointed they can spend time online but can’t send you an email. Come to terms with it, it’s their life not yours. If you are their friend on Facebook it is a wonderful gift from them, an affirmation of trust. Abuse it at your peril.

Enough to absorb for today. I hope these thoughts have given you some of you own, or clarified the muddle in your head. And to those mom’s who got ‘A’ level results this morning, I hope all went well!

The next post in this series will be ‘How to be the perfect parent for your college student: or how not to be clingy, dependent and drive your child away. Handling your emotions through the transition. The impact of your reaction on younger children and the change in family dynamics when the eldest leaves home.’ 

❋ Kindle for downloading documents I’d like to add something which wasn’t included in the last post on practical tips for students. It was sent by Martha Gonzalez for which I’d like to extend my thanks. It’s something I know about because I’ve used it for work related PDFs but never thought to appy it to students. In her own words,

“This summer when my daughter went to South Africa alone, she took my Kindle. I converted her travel documents to PDF (flight documents, travel insurance and copy of passport) then sent it to my kindle at my address @kindle.com. If you have 3G and want to avoid charges and force the Kindle to use the wireless connection use @free.kindle.com or just transfer by USB. The Kindle had a folder with all her important travel documents. I had her password protect the Kindle for extra security. It made for a neat backup beyond the folded paper copies.

This is absolutely brilliant.

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
This entry was posted in College Bound Kids, Empty Nest, Expat Experiences, Family Life, Women and Female Related and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to College Bound Kids?: Keeping in Touch Across Time Zones

  1. Just some tips from me…my child has an iphone w/Skype on it. Now the new iphone has front facing camera which is great for skyping (no matter where they are), if they want to of course. In additon, Skype allows for sending texts and making phone calls with the Skype-to-Go number added feature. I have a Skype-to-Go Number which is your own personal phone number. You can set the area code. For me, I chose a local number to my hometown where all my family and friends are. My family can call the local number in the states and it rings me on my iphone (which is on my free wifi) in my house. It is a normal number with voicemail, call forwarding, etc. I can also make phone calls to landlines, cell phones, and non-skype members in general. Generally for 2 cents a minute with the added Unlimited World Plan with Skype. I think I pay roughly $30 a month for everything on average (even with all the calls). The benefit is my family can call me without having international charges because it is a local states number. They can leave me a voicemail. If they do, I get an automatic email notification (which also goes to my iphone) that I have a Skype message. I can call them too. I can webcam when convenient for both. So…an iphone with a local plan… (OR NO PLAN because you have the option of using WIFI in WIFI zones, which I have setup in my house). This means whenever the iphone is in a WIFI zone, it will use that instead of Data Cell minutes. No worry about big cell phone charges. So, if you only skype during the time they are in the WIFI zone (starbucks, mcdonalds..well, virtually everything has free WIFI), then it is not additional minute or data usage. The additional nice feature is iphone has a device locator which can be doubled as a family locator. I can locate my family member wherever they are via the iCloud at no extra charge. It just gives a sense of comfort. I also have a free text app with my own number that works great for just a normal cell look and feel texting…called TextNow. Anyway, maybe you find these types helpful.

  2. Another great post in this ever-so-important series. I consider myself fortunate that I am friended on FB, but it’s precisely because I’ve always operated by the rules you laid out. FB is indeed a very private reserve for them, so knowing that I can send him a FB message to read/respond to at his leisure really helps. Since he and his friends will all be in different cities and countries, they intend to continue using FB as their main means of staying in touch. He’s agreed to Skype, but explained that I had to send him a quick chat request (on Skype) first to avoid interrupting him Skyping with someone else. Fair enough. You’re so right about this generation not bothering with email; if I email key docs to him, then I have to give him a heads up via FB to go check! He’ll get a cell phone in the US (much cheaper than here), but calls will be for emergencies. On the one hand technology has made it so much easier to stay in contact, but prioritizing the options is a must!

    • wordgeyser says:

      Hi Linda, thanks for re-enforcing the FB ‘rules’ – abuse them at your peril. Loved the tips about Skype use and your decision on cell phones, all more tips for helping other families make choices for their students. Getting the practical things in place now does help – think of it as occupational therapy! Good luck next week as USA bound students start to head ‘back’.

  3. Jane says:

    Fantastic… now to get my college kids to read it and discuss 😉

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