Beyond the Text Message: 5 Ways to Connect with Your College Student

Celebrating the new year means time to clean out and organize, right? That’s just what I was doing when I pulled out an old cardboard box labeled “college memorabilia.” I opened the lid and was transported back to my old dorm room in the Commons at Texas A&M. The box was full of fun things like party pics and ticket stubs – and some less fun things like graded blue books and class notes (why on earth did I hang on to those?).

But what really caught my attention was the thick stack of envelopes. I immediately remembered the excitement of going to my P.O. Box in the student center to check my mail. Receiving letters from family and friends meant so much to me, especially my first year away from home. Plus, there was always a chance there was going to be a crisp ten dollar bill in the letter! I could treat myself to some Double Dave’s pizza rolls!

After enjoying an afternoon of reminiscing over the cards and letters (and marveling over the 29 cent postage!), it occurred to me that with today’s variety of methods for instant communication, today’s college kids probably aren’t getting much in their mailboxes besides coupons and credit card offers. I think that’s a big loss. Not only in the here and now, but twenty years down the road when they don’t have a stack of letters tucked away in a cardboard box.

For all those parents who are sending kids back to college after the winter break, I have an assignment for you this semester: write your child a letter! And I do mean write.  My father is now suffering from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and these two horrible diseases combined have just about taken away his ability to write.

He’s a very talented artist who used to love writing stories about his childhood and illustrating them with sketches. I miss watching his hand move across the paper with such ease. Pulling out his letters and seeing his very distinctive handwriting on the page brought it all back to me. I’m thankful that I have this little piece of my dad forever.

You may be thinking, “But I text with my child so frequently, there’s nothing left to say in a letter. And besides, it would all be old news by the time it got there anyway.” It’s not really the content of the letter that’s important – it’s just the fact that you took the time to write. If you’re struggling to imagine swapping the instant gratification of that text -DING!- for a good old-fashioned letter, here are a few fun ideas.

Did I ever tell you about that time…

Whether or not they admit it, I think all kids enjoy hearing stories from their parents’ past. Consider sharing stories of cute or funny things your college student used to do – things they were too young to remember.

Or, write to them about what college life was like for you and your friends “back in the day.” Sure you might have to edit some things out to maintain your image as a responsible adult, but they would probably get a kick of hearing your creative methods for stretching your campus dining plan, or the adventures of working at the college bookstore.

Get their siblings in on the fun

Did your college kid leave behind some younger siblings? Rope them into the letter writing too. Maybe each family member can pick their own colored pencil and write their own paragraph catching big brother up on what’s been going on in their world. I have friends who sent their first-born off to college this year.

As hard as it was for Mom to send her boy off into the world, they report that it’s been equally hard on his little brothers. They really look up to him and miss having him involved in their day-to-day. This could be a fun way to help them all feel connected.

Flat Stanley…or Maddie?

This one could be fun especially if the siblings left behind are a bit younger. Most of you are probably familiar with the idea of Flat Stanley. Kids read the book in elementary school, color and cut out a picture of Flat Stanley, then send it off to relatives and ask them to take pictures of Flat Stanley on new adventures.

Why not let a younger sibling decorate a picture of herself and send it to her big sister off at school. Big sis can send back pictures of “Flat Maddie” in her dorm room, at a baseball game, maybe even with the school mascot!

Is the family pet a budding writer?

This last idea is my favorite – and comes straight from my very creative father. As I sat reading through my stack of letters last weekend, I opened one from my dad. I could tell it was still his handwriting, but it looked a bit different. It started out sweet enough, “Hi Karen. I keep telling everybody in the neighborhood how much I miss you.” I could just picture my dad chatting with Mr. Goldman about sending his baby off to school…so sweet.

But then it took a turn. He went to talk about fussing at neighborhood kids who were in his yard…and I’m thinking, wait a minute, this doesn’t sound like my kind, good-natured dad. A few paragraphs later, he goes on to tell me that my little niece had come to visit…and that she kept pulling his hair and chasing him around the yard. “I had to get up in the tree just to get away from her!”

After just a moment of envisioning my dad up a tree, I finally caught on. I glanced at the bottom of the letter to see it was signed by…”Squeaky”…my beautiful, grumpy cat. By the end of the letter, I was laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes. So if your kiddo had to leave behind a beloved family pet when he went off to school, take a cue from my dad. Don’t just report that Daisy is doing well; have a little fun letting Daisy tell of her own adventures.

A twenty for your thoughts

Creative juices just not flowing? Stick $20 in a card, along with a handwritten note advising your student to take a study break and grab a treat on you. They’ll appreciate that you were thinking of them, they’ll get a trip to Starbucks, and still have the card with your handwriting to save for posterity!

Do you have other creative ways to keep in touch with your college kid the old-fashioned way? Let us know in the comments. And go write that letter before the price of stamps goes up again!

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7 Ways to Connect Your Kids With Long-Distance Loved Ones