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Connecting to Kids in the Digital Age

With instant communication, parents need to be mindful of getting a little too close

En español | When a lot of us were in college, keeping in touch with mom and dad usually meant a dutiful Sunday phone call home every week or two. Our parents remained mostly out of the loop as we found our way in the world, sometimes falling flat and getting up, staking out our own lives, declaring our independence.

See also: 11 tips for social networking safety.

Even as recently as 15 years ago, when email was just starting to revolutionize global communication, a friend remarked that she wouldn't use it to keep in touch with her college son. She didn't think it was fair to be a constant, lurking presence in his dorm room. "He needs some space and some privacy to find himself," she explained.

Senior couple communicates through social media on the computer

Parents should set some boundaries when using social media. — Blue Jean Images/Getty Images

How quaint that seems now when parents and kids are connected by an electronic lifeline that never ends. Technological innovations have joined forces with social changes to create a communication explosion between parents and emerging adults in this new century.

Parents can lob email messages back and forth all day with their college students or recent grads. They can Skype to see a dorm room or a first apartment, meet new roommates, or vote on the choice of outfit for a first job interview. They can check in by mobile phone while kids are crossing campus between classes or exchange texts when kids are bored in a lecture or losing focus at a desk job. They can track their grown children on Facebook — if permitted, that is, "friended" — or follow their kids' blogs from across the globe. Surely all this communication is a boon to keeping the generations close.

But there are pitfalls, too. The digital tools that connect us can also constrict us. Parents' good-advice emails allow them to be in their grown children's faces nonstop. Children's texted requests may mean they don't figure things out for themselves. Lurking on Facebook may give parents more information than they need to have (photos of that raucous Saturday night party a young reveler would sooner forget by Monday). A grown child's blog post written in haste or to amuse friends can cause undue parental worry.

A blessing, a curse or a combination of both? Our guidelines can help parents make the best use of digital contact with emerging adults and sidestep the potholes:

Next: 3 ways to stay close without invading your child's privacy.

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