By Thomas P. McGuinness, Ph.D., associate vice provost and former associate vice president for Student Affairs and director of University Counseling Services
Things are bound to be different when your son or daughter returns home for the summer—and not just because of the higher laundry piles. Students develop, change, and become accustomed to having more autonomy while they are away at college. It may take some time for everyone in the family to adjust to new patterns and expectations.
As a psychologist who’s been working with BC students and parents over the past 26 years, I offer these tips to help your Eagle land smoothly this summer.
Expect and respect changes: This goes for everyone—parents, students, and siblings. As parents, your first challenge is to recognize that you have a young adult returning to the family. Mature adults listen to and respond to one another’s concerns. I often tell undergraduates who are nervous about going home, “It’s OK to disagree with your parents and to be independent, but you should always do that respectfully.” A young person who is oppositional and rude is not acting like an adult.
Negotiate the big stuff: Every family resolves tensions over issues such as curfews, car sharing, and chores in its own way. Most problems get worked out as they arise. But it’s useful to sit down and talk calmly about expectations and feelings—particularly when tension and parental limits are involved. Negotiate what’s most important in the family and reach a compromise if necessary. 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 so you’re not lying awake worrying.
Appreciate what’s new: Going away to college is a life-changing experience, and it’s important that you notice and acknowledge how your Eagle has changed during the year. Exposure to new knowledge and ways of being and thinking will likely make your children more mature, confident, enlightened, and empathic. They may come home with more liberal or conservative points of view and express themselves in different styles or language, and that should be OK.
Give your son or daughter space: Our students tend to be fairly exhausted after exams and spring semester’s end, and they may need a little time to chill out and adjust to being home. When it comes to summer plans, most of our students are industrious and want jobs and internships. However, if your son or daughter hasn’t lined up anything, is sleeping in, and seems to see the summer as a time to hang out with friends, you have to address it. You shouldn’t stand over the bed with a task list, but you might say, “We need a plan for what you are going to do while you’re home.”
Help with tough transitions: Students returning from study abroad may have had experiences that opened their eyes and changed the way they view the world. They may think differently about their friendships, their career choices, and what they want to study. Parents can help by listening and posing matter-of-fact questions. (“How do you think that would affect your plans to go to grad school in two years?” is more helpful and likely to yield a measured response than “What could you possibly gain by doing volunteer work for two years?”) Brand new graduates have other reasons to be anxious, particularly if they don’t yet have a job lined up or a career-search strategy in place. It’s important that parents encourage them while remaining supportive. Remember, they’re going through a difficult time.
Encourage resilience: If your rising BC sophomore, junior, or senior is open to talking about their hopes and plans for the academic year, ask about course choices and encourage intellectual risk-taking. Part of the process of growing up and being independent and resilient is making choices. Character develops out of facing and overcoming adversity. They may make mistakes and have regrets, but it is essential for them to face obstacles independently and make their own decisions.