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My 18 year old son lives in another country. He's finishing up high school and he has a lot of things that go on in his personal life. It can be really hard to stay in touch. He rarely answers email I send him. Nor FaceBook messages. And it's hard to get him on skype. He does have a mobile, and he will answer it. But often I feel like I'm prying by asking him how things are and what's up...

I realized my first formulation of this sounded like I was asking for concrete suggestions about what to do, and after getting a few answers I realize I'm looking more for other dads and sons to share their own experiences with what they lived through.

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2 Answers

I've lived in a different country from my parents for many years, also while I was younger. I understand how much you want to keep in touch, be part of his life, hear what's going on.

The thing is, his life is probably very different now and perhaps there's not a big spot for you. Skype isn't "hip" with kids these days, that's for us old people. Email is just ancient, might as well use pigeons. Facebook might be too public, depending on how it's used.

Instead of trying to find a solution yourself, try to get his perspective. Next time you reach him, tell him that you'd like to know how much - and how - he'd like to stay in touch with you. No, you don't want to monitor him, but you want to be happy about the cool things he's got going on, but if you don't know then you can't smile.

What worked for me was to set up a schedule, sort of a recurring date. I knew Thursday evenings at 8 was an hour of NetMeeting with my dad (yeah, it's a while ago...) and we had the deal that sometimes other commitments came in the way but as a general rule we tried to connect then (and only then). For you, once a week may not be enough :-) but it's way too much for him. Maybe every other Thursday evening (or whatever weekday he prefers) could work.

Make this on his terms. You're at his mercy, but that doesn't mean you have to beg and grovel. It just means you might need to accept the scraps he throws at you and be grateful. If you try to be the one to state demands and set the terms, it won't work; if you can make it come from him then chances are better.

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Hey Torben, I appreciate you sharing your own experience with this. That means a lot to hear from other dads, more so I think than any ideas for what to do. –  Jason Oct 7 '13 at 8:49
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I lived 9000 miles from my parents for a few years up until I left school at 18, and back then the Internet didn't exist, phone calls to them were over £5 a minute, and to be honest, I was having so much fun I wasn't bothered about contacting them.

So I spoke to them once a month on the phone, and we wrote letters and postcards. I did get to visit them twice a year and for me that was enough. I know my parents wanted more frequent communications because they worried, as all parents do, but I treated it as an opportunity to be very independent.

I did however occasionally need to contact them for emergencies (money, property damage etc) and one thing I really appreciated was them making it very plain that I could call at any time, so I would recommend your approach should be to make him feel very comfortable about contacting you when he has important things to talk about, but also making it plain that either party can call the other to just catch up and talk inconsequentialities.

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Hey Rory, thanks for sharing the perspective of a son who's been in this situation. It sounds like your experience is radically different than my sons though. He hasn't been having a fantastic time and he's not known how to reach out when really difficult things have happened. –  Jason Oct 7 '13 at 8:51
    
So I reckon my final paragraph, plus all of Torben's excellent answer, will help you out. Make sure you let him feel comfortable calling you for anything, at any time. If you can set up a regular slot, then do that, but always be there. –  Rory Alsop Oct 7 '13 at 8:53
    
Hey Rory, yeah... that I guess is the challenge - how to know he's really comfortable calling me. I thought he was and found out he wasn't after he'd already dropped out of school! I know I can't "make" him share with me, but it was a shock to realize how much he was keeping locked up inside because he didn't think he could share with anyone. –  Jason Oct 7 '13 at 8:56
    
@Jason: Making your child understand that they can tell you everything is difficult, and would make a good question post all by itself... –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Oct 7 '13 at 9:21
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