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Is There an App for That? Autonomy and Dependency in College Students

college student mobile app dependency
Most college students use at least one online application throughout the course of a day. While many technological advances stimulate productivity and creativity, Diane R. Dean and Arthur Levine describe how college students can develop a dependency to their device of choice by continually turning to applications in their article, “Is There an App for That?” Autonomy and Dependency in Today’s College Students”.  

Dean and Levine interviewed several college deans to get a good idea of how the use of technology has affected the average student. Overall, Dean and Levine argue the college students’ dependency on mobile and online applications may hurt the development of critical interpersonal skills, may hinder the ability to engage in person, and may lower the feeling of connectivity.

Parents of college students should keep in mind that not all technology will have adverse affects and there are plenty of applications and tools meant to boost productivity. However, if your college student seems submerged in the virtual reality world of online applications, it may be time to step in.

How can parents help?

Parents can model appropriate behaviors when it comes to technology.

If you find your college student constantly glued to a screen of some sort, it is a good idea to monitor your own online habits. After all, when children see their parents doing something, they assume it is alright to follow suit. Are you a parent who is on your phone during family meal time? Do you have your device out during family functions? If you have to wait in line somewhere, is your first instinct to check your social media or email while you wait? If so, you may be sending a signal to your college student about dependency on technology, setting the norm of acceptable online usage.

Modeling appropriate behaviors, like setting restrictions for devices, encourages your college student to engage in the present moment, becoming aware of what is going on around them. For example, parents who ban devices from the dinner table may foster their college student’s social and emotional skills through simple, everyday interactions. When sharing meals put away the phones, tablets, and computers. Instead, have adult conversation and teach your college student how to connect with others.

Parents can communicate the old-fashioned way.

Think back to the time when people had to have conversations either face-to-face or over the telephone. An important discussion had to be arranged when both parties could commit the time and energy to talking. People picked up on nonverbal cues, like body language, tone of voice, and pauses between responses, to really feel what was being communicated. If feelings were hurt, you could hear a tremble in the voice or see tears form as a response. If a message was confusing or misunderstood, talking it out could bring immediate clarity to the situation. The old-fashioned way of communicating made parties aware and accountable for their affect on others.

Now, fast forward, to present-day, technologically driven communication. College students primarily convey their thoughts and feelings by typing words into text messages, emails, online chat, and social media sites. This ultimately limits the lines of communication. A void of nonverbal cues ups the opportunity for miscommunication. Text messages and status updates may be misinterpreted, and college students may not be able to comprehend how their messages make others feel.

Parents can help by regularly conversing with their college student. Talking on the phone or in person, and using applications that allow for direct face-to-face contact, like Skype or Google + Hangouts, are a great way to break the emotional distance that naturally accompanies text messaging and emailing.

Our Career Development Center at Yellowbrick may help uncover the benefits and challenges of technology on college life and career development for young adults.

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