North Texas Daily

Student studies impact of parent communication

Student studies impact of parent communication

Student studies impact of parent communication
October 15
23:45 2014

Samantha McDonald / Staff Writer

This fall, a study will reveal how constant electronic communication with parents affects freshman growth and maturity.

Development and family studies doctoral student Lauri Etheridge will present the findings in her fall dissertation, which focuses on the frequency at which freshman students talk with their parents and its effect on student independence in college.

Sparking a study

As a teaching fellow, Etheridge was often asked in her parenting class about the impact of technology on the parent-child relationship. She said that when students debate the age at which children should be given a cellphone, she responds by asking how often they talk to their parents on the phone.

“I was really amazed at how many of them would indicate they talked to their parents, usually their mother, more than once a day,” she said. “Many of the students would also indicate that they thought their mom was their best friend.”

As a result, Etheridge started researching parent-child attachment, parenting styles and communication regularity with the arrival of smartphones and social media. Reading more about the subject eventually helped her decide the focus of her dissertation.

“One Sunday, there was an editorial in the Dallas Morning News about helicopter parenting,” she said. “I had seen other articles that talked about how we are raising a generation of kids who are basically helpless since we do everything for them.”

The research process

Approved by associate educational psychology professor Rebecca Glover and a dissertation committee, Etheridge began to collect data Oct. 1 with the expectation of hearing back from 1,700 new freshmen for statistical analysis. The survey is anticipated to run until the end of the month, and the study will be completed in early 2015.

Etheridge’s work advances previous studies on the subject with the addition of technology as a factor in communication.

“Lauri is doing an excellent job,” Glover said. “Her research has the potential of providing a more current understanding of the adult child-parent relationship than what previous research has provided due to technological advances that allow all of us to stay better connected with others.”

The research project, which also tackles parenting styles, will contrast between supportive and decision-making parents. Supportive parents are characterized as those who give advice to their children while decision-making parents dictate what their children should do.

“I really hope to find that just because students and their parents are talking on the phone often that it isn’t hindering their development of autonomy and decision-making skills,” Etheridge said.

‘Helicopter parents’ and student autonomy

The study includes questions about how often freshmen called, texted or emailed their parents in the period of one week during their first semester in college.

Psychology freshman Alyssa Gallagher said that she typically calls her parents once or twice a week.

Gallagher, who only recently heard about the term “helicopter parents” through Etheridge’s research, has identified her parents as the opposite.

“They’ve been really good about letting me do my own thing,” she said. “Even over the summer, they weren’t being clingy and let me do what I want.”

This parenting style, Gallagher said, has helped in her ability to become more independent compared to students whose parents are overprotective even as they head off to college.

“Now that I’m here, especially in the first couple of weeks, I wasn’t afraid of doing things myself,” she said. “I think it made it easier to adjust, and I could figure things out on my own.”

Ultimately, Etheridge is looking to gain information that establishes a correlation between parenting style and how often a student talks to his or her parent. She said the data could lead to better training on navigating the college transition for both parents and students.

“I would hope that the findings would assist student affairs personnel in developing programs or orientations to help parents in the ‘letting go’ process – allowing their kids to make their own decisions, make mistakes, learn how to take care of themselves – but still stay connected and supportive of them,” Etheridge said.

Featured Photo: Educational psychology professor Lauri Etheridge – Photo courtesy of UNT NEWS

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