As I write this, my daughter is surrounded by jungle and sweltering humidity as she buzzes up a muddy tributary of the Amazon River in a motorized canoe.
Yes, I am worried. But not too much. Just the right amount.
She's headed for the Tiputini Biodiversity Station outside Quito, Ecuador, and a University of Oregon undergraduate summer course that will introduce her to real-life field research of the jungle's reptiles, amphibians, insects, birds and bats. She'll wade into swamps in the same equatorial region where Charles Darwin studied iguanas when he, like my daughter, was in his early 20s.
It's a great opportunity for my budding biologist. Students use the facilities to design and conduct their own research projects.
My daughter will study a certain species of ant that drinks the nectar of a certain species of vascular plant. But one of the program's best features was spelled out in the "What not to bring" section of the course handout: No cell phones. No computers.
Even if she had her phone, cell service surely would fade as she travels deeper into the rainforest. But I'm glad she can't call me. That way she can taste the thrill of venturing into tropical wilderness, completely cut off from all parental civilization.
I felt this kick when I was in my 20s, working on a project to build rice paddy irrigation in northeastern Thailand. I remember lying on my bamboo bed in the tropical night, a fan whirling beside me and feral dogs barking in the distance, thrilling to the thought: "I am really far away." If I could have Skyped the experience with my parents, it would have drained the excitement.
I guess computer and cell phone contact can reassure worried parents and relieve a young traveler's homesickness. My daughter's best friend scheduled weekly Skype sessions with her parents during the year she lived in Chile. It must have comforted her mom and dad to see their daughter's face talking from the screen on the laptop computer on the kitchen counter.
But I wonder if this illusion of closeness spoiled another broadening experience to a young adult's travels: the feeling of being in a far-off land with no easy way to contact your family.
So while my daughter is far away, I'll hold to a personal parenting credo: "To keep my kids inside their growth zone, I need to let them do things outside my comfort zone." I encourage fellow parents to cut the electronic umbilical cord from college-age sons and daughters traveling abroad this summer.
Worry about them a little—just the right amount—and our young explorers will risk more, endure more, broaden more.