“Going off to college is the most significant experience of independence—and potential change in worldview—that many young people go through,” says Director of University Counseling Services Craig Burns. Living away from home in a residence hall, spending a semester overseas, or pursuing an intensive internship in an unfamiliar place can be a life-changing event.

But parents and families tend to overlook what happens when their Eagles return to the family nest after living semi-autonomously in a residence hall, spending a semester abroad, or taking part in an immersive volunteer experience.

Students may come home with a limited sense of purpose and a significant amount of free-floating anxiety about the near or distant future, observes Burns. And that can create a source of tension for parents, their adult children, and younger siblings.

What’s more, because of the omnipresence of smartphones and our seemingly ceaseless communication with family and friends by text, e-mail, Facebook, and Instagram, many of us assume we are closer than we are to members of our families, observes Burns. “When we’re making constant contact, we are often under the impression that we know more about our students than we actually do,” he says. Parents may have talked with or texted their students dozens of times in the month before they arrive for a summer at home, but may, in fact, know little about their student’s life at BC.

Going off to college is the most significant experience of independence—and potential change in worldview—that many young people go through.
Craig Burns, Director of University Counseling Services

Burns recommends that “when students come home, parents should be asking questions as if they haven’t seen them or have barely spoken to them in months.” Time is needed to get to know one another as adults—though perhaps not immediately, he cautions, and adds: “We need to let them settle in for a while.”

Your student, now a young adult, expects to be treated as a mature member of the family. But parents have a right to expect the same.

Shortly after your student returns home, “it’s worth having an open discussion with your student about expectations, hopes, and worries,” says Burns. He advises that parents and their students talk early on about “organization”—who can use the car and when; who stocks the refrigerator; curfews. Burns and other experts in University Counseling Services offer this practical advice for BC families getting to know one another once again over the summer:

  • Understand and negotiate possible sources of friction. Counselors recommend that families sit down and talk to one another about difficult issues while they are living together at home. Negotiate what’s most important and reach compromises if necessary. So that you’re not lying awake worrying, you and your daughter, for example, may agree that she will text or call if she’s going to be home late or staying somewhere else.

  • Appreciate what’s new. Going away to college is a life-shaping experience. It’s important that you notice and acknowledge how your son or daughter has changed during the year, and what they expect—or imagine—the next years will bring.

  • Help with tough transitions. Students returning from study abroad or other overseas immersive experiences may have encountered parts of life that change the way they view the world. They might think differently about their friendships, career choices, and what they want to study. As disquieting as it may be to learn that your son, who dreamed for years of going to medical school, has decided instead that he’s been called to teach impoverished children in Central America, you can help by listening, posing matter-of-fact questions, and offering practical advice.

  • Offer to help your son or daughter take preliminary steps in exploring careers. Point them to the resources of the Boston College Career Center website, which are specifically designed to help undergraduates identify, discover, and fulfill their life’s purpose. See “Career planning keeps students engaged over the summer.”

  • Enjoy one another’s company. And appreciate the new chapter in your relationship.  

— Maureen Dezell, University Communications

Career planning keeps students engaged over the summer

Summer provides students with a slower-paced schedule than they may be accustomed to. It also gives them an opportunity to explore aspects of career planning they might not pursue during the school year. Joe Du Pont, associate vice president for student affairs, Career Center, offers parents some practical advice to help them encourage their students to remain engaged over the summer break: