College Kids & Boomer Parents: Time to Disconnect A Bit

by Dr. Ann L. Engelland

(September 15, 2006) Over the past month I had the wonderful experience of helping two of my sons pack up and get settled in their freshman dorms. As we send them off to college, many Boomers think we are not so different from our kids and feel that it was just yesterday we were moving in to the dorms ourselves. After all, we listen to the same music, drive the same cars, eat similar food, talk several times a week like friends do, and imagine that we think alike.

But as I surveyed the huge piles of boxes and packing materials from Linens and Things, Radioshack, and Bed Bath and Beyond outside of the dorm entryways, I was struck by the differences between the generations. Mostly, I was struck by the huge difference that technology has made in our lives and how it is often the technology itself that brings us together.

At the end of the summer, my Adolescent Medicine listserve posted a list (of course, what else would a listserve post?) that I found particularly stunning in the way it highlights the generation shift.

The list was generated from Beloit College and is entitled “ Beloit College’s Mindset List for the Class of 2010.” Remember, they say, that members of the class of 2010 were mostly born in 1988. Here is a sampling of what characterizes this cohort of kids:

  1. The Soviet Union has never existed and therefore is about as scary as the student union.
  2. They have known only two presidents.
  3. For most of their lives, major US airlines have been bankrupt.
  4. They have never heard anyone actually “ring it up” on a cash register.
  5. A coffee has always taken longer to make than a milkshake.
  6. Smoking has never been permitted on US airlines.
  7. They grew up with and have outgrown faxing as a means of communication.
  8. “Google” has always been a verb.
  9. Text messaging is their email.
  10. Phantom of the Opera has always been on Broadway
  11. Carbon copies are oddities found in their grandparents’ attics.
  12. They grew up in mini-vans.
  13. They have rarely mailed anything using a stamp.
  14. They have always been able to watch wars and revolutions live on television.
  15. The US has always been studying global warming to confirm its existence.
  16. Professional athletes have always competed in the Olympics.
  17. They have always been searching for “Waldo.”

The “list” made me feel old but mostly it highlighted for me just how young they are, just how recently they were born along our own timeline. Even though I felt concern for the environment when I saw the mountains of packaging, I realize that flat screens, iPods, individual printers and wireless laptops are symbols of the more convenient and faster world they have inherited. We happily share in all of this partly because it helps keep us young and connected to them.

As we separate from our college kids, one of the challenges lies in allowing them the freedom, distance and chance to stumble or even fail without the instantaneous parental feedback that modern electronic connection might afford.

Dr. Engelland has a practice in Mamaroneck devoted to Adolescent Primary Care. She can be reached at 698-5544.

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