Parental Control in the Digital Age

By: Carolyn Miller

Growing up, I could not wait to one day go off to college. There were many reasons why, but one of the biggest reasons was that I would finally be free from my mom’s rules. You know exactly what I’m talking about, most people spend their entire childhood with their parents being very involved in their lives. I know for me, my mom always wanted to know where I was and who I was with, even when I turned 18.

While I’m thankful that my mom was always there for me, this was incredibly frustrating because I never felt like I could make decisions for myself. Therefore, I was so excited to move away even if Belmont was only two and a-half hours away from home. Finally, I would be free to do whatever I wanted and live with no one keeping tabs on my choices, or at least I thought.

With cell phones, distance no longer poses as an obstacle for communication. My mom can simply call or text me at any time of the day and even see my location from a program in our Verizon phone plan. As you can imagine, this can be incredibly frustrating and disheartening and research suggests that it happens to a lot of students in college.

Lynne Kelly and her colleagues, researchers in the School of Communication at the University of Hartford, saw a connection between this kind of behavior which can be considered as “Helicopter Parenting” and its impact on college students. Their study, published in The Southern Communication Journal, surveyed 529 communication students about their perceptions of different levels of helicopter parenting via cell-phone communication such as, “My mother/father tries to make all of my major decisions.”

In these surveys, researchers attempted to answer whether students experienced greater conflict as a result of high helicopter parenting and whether their avoidance of communication affected the level of helicopter parenting.

Kelly and her colleagues found that students who had mothers with high demand for contact and more emphasis on rules regarding time of contact and what should be discussed reported higher levels of conflict. Notably, they did not report feeling less close to their “helicopter” moms. In response to “high helicoptering,” college students reported using avoidance tactics such as letting calls go to their voicemail.

The study found a vast difference between high helicopter mothers and high helicopter fathers. For instance, students who experienced high helicopter fathers reported frequency of cell-phone contact to be related to how close they felt with their father. The more frequent the contact, the closer students felt to their father as compared to how they felt when their mother imposed frequent contact.

While personally, this kind of behavior eased up when my mom finally started accepting that I was actually an adult now, I still find it hard to have a social life without my family being overly involved through social media.

We all know that feeling, you want to post a cute picture of you and your friends out on the town or you want to post your opinions of President Trump’s latest speech, but your Aunt, Grandma and basically your entire family follow you on social media. So, do you risk posting it knowing your family may judge you for it? How can you have a personal life separate from family life?

A research study called “Blurred Lines: Privacy Management, Family Relationships, and Facebook” by Joshua Miller and his associates at the University of Wisconsin, examined the positive and negative effects of using social media, Facebook specifically, and how it impacts family dynamics.

The researchers asked 80 participants to recall instances in which there were conflicts between family members stemming from Facebook. Based on this, they discovered that participants wished they could control the information their families could see on their Facebook profiles, while their families wished they had more access to this information. They also found that participants in the study were concerned about assumptions being made by their families based on posts their families were able to see. They found that even some participants experienced emotional breakdowns as a result of the lack of privacy on Facebook.

It’s safe to say that increased use of social media between family members, can cause serious issues regarding personal privacy. These two research studies illustrate the potential downsides of social media and cell phone use, and how increased usage may be impacting your family relationships.

However, managing these problems might not be as difficult as we expect. Let’s face it, we’re all adults here, so tell your parents to take a chill pill and call them back after your night out and don’t be afraid to update your status or post that one picture, the privacy settings are there for a reason.

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