The first summer home after freshman year can be exciting and fun but also challenging for both parents and college kids. Your child has spent the past year in a relatively unstructured environment with few rules. As long as grades are kept up, parents might have little insight into their college kid’s actual behaviors. It can be startling to realize that your child, who likely considers herself an adult, has developed new habits such as staying out until 4 a.m. and sleeping until 1p.m. Should parents force their children back into the pre-established family structure or should they allow their children to continue living as they have during the past year? Tackling these issues often causes fights, tension, and resentment and can prevent you and your child from enjoying the time you have together.
Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today” offers five tips on how to avoid blowouts with your college kid.
- Negotiate conflicts early. Curfews, money use, Internet use, and household responsibilities are common sources of tension. Think ahead about what you expect from your child and have a discussion about it. Decide if he needs to get a job, for example, to pay for nights out with friends. If he has been living in a dorm, he is likely used to having friends come and go at all hours of the day and night. Discuss what is appropriate for your household. The earlier you establish the rules, the better.
- Be flexible. Compromise with your child when it comes to establishing the rules. If you force your children to adhere to the same rules they had in high school they are likely to resent you and avoid coming home. They have managed to care for themselves independently for the past year, and they should be allowed some freedom. You will battle endlessly if you insist on an early curfew when their friends are allowed to stay out late, but you can probably agree that your children have to tell you where they are and what time they will be home.
- Encourage an adult-to-adult relationship. Your college kid is an emerging adult with his own ideas and opinions. Listen to what he has to say and respond with respect. After all, they are sent to college to learn to become independent thinkers! Developing this kind of relationship will be gratifying to both you and your children.
- Accept them. Some parents are surprised by their children’s appearance when they return home from college. Clothes and hair, for example, might be different from when you last saw them. College kids tend to experiment with different personas until they discover who they really are. Preserve your relationship by allowing this process to unfold without judgment. They will be less likely to make drastic and permanent changes if the small ones are accepted.
- Show them you want them home. If the summer is filled with arguing and nagging, your children will avoid coming home. Allow them to spend time with their friends and to do what they want within reason, but also ask them to reserve some time to spend with you. Make them feel welcome and wanted. These summers could be the last they spend living with you.
Dr. Jaime Black is a licensed psychologist practicing in Westchester and New York City. In addition to providing general mental health services, Jaime works with individuals of all ages on the autism spectrum, doing psychotherapy, conducting evaluations, and facilitating social skills groups. Visit www.spectrumservicesnyc.com, e-mail JaimeBlackPsyD@gmail.com or call (914)712-8208.