Now that my daughter is off for her freshman year at college, it's time to consider the ways we can stay in touch with her. In decades past, writing letters worked well for parents and their kids. I'm finding it hard to imagine that scenario in this technology-accelerated age of ours. Telephones quickly replaced pen and paper, but even now the old land-line models have become almost extinct for our children. With cell phones in hand, they can speak to us even as they walk to class, though more likely they are chatting with their friends.
We recently discovered that instant messaging works quite well. Knowing that our daughter has been immersed in AIM for several years, we figured she'd stay with that online environment while at college, and that we might be able to enter it with her. Fortunately, we knew her username. Having done lots of chat in my early years of online research at the Palace, I also felt comfortable with the techniques and spirit of synchronous text communication.
To our surprise and delight, she welcomed us into her AIM space. She doesn't always respond to every IM we send, but that's often the way it is in the IM world. The icing on the cake is that she leaves AIM on almost all day long, so it can tell us if she's on the computer or not, and for how long. Knowing when she's in her dorm room and at the computer is quite comforting, even if she isn't communicating directly with us.
Having recently registered at Facebook, I thought I'd test my online good fortune even further by inviting my daughter to be my friend. As I mentioned in my previous post to this blog, that did not go over as well as AIM. Jokingly, she rejected me. Parents are not welcome in some online hangouts.
So why does AIM work well? For one thing, AIM is private communication, unlike Facebook where teens can communicate as a group via "the wall." My daughter's AIM friends have no way of knowing I'm instant messaging her along with them, unless she tells them.
AIM also fulfills the developmental needs of teens that some psychoanalysts might describe as "rapproachment." They want to be independent, to dart away and do their own thing, but they also want to be able to touch base when necessary. Cell phones can do the trick, but a phone call leans towards a slightly heavier communication committment. You're obligated to talk for a least a few minutes and you must respond when someone says something. Instant messaging is more suited for connecting when you want, responding if you want, running off when you want. It's a compromise between dependence and independence.