Ok, so after a long and emotionally trying year of college, your precious bundle of joy has arrived home for the summer. You’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. You’ve imagined all the fun bonding time you and your student will have, and you’re comforted to know that you will know where your kiddo is at all times.
Ah, how we wish this happy dream were ever a reality.
A colleague and I spoke about this earlier, and she recalled that she and her mother were absolutely at each other’s throats when she came back after freshman year. I, on the other hand, because of construction at our house, was forced to share a hot, tiny attic with my nine-year-old stepsister, and so I actively began avoiding my home by couch-surfing with friends as much as possible. There were a number of arguments with both of my parents.
Most students head home for the summer, especially after the first year, and all parties involved think this will be all hunky-dory…until something comes up to make you both realize that your expectations have been completely opposite: you expect you’re probably gonna get your child back, have lots of quality time, and get full disclosure from him or her about activities, friends, and locations (because this is your house, goshdarnit!); meanwhile, back at the ranch, your child expects that s/he will enjoy the same adult freedoms and independence s/he did while rockin’ out a 10×12 square with one other eighteen-year-old (another eighteen-year-old who, most likely, didn’t say things like, “Will you be home by 1am? You know how I worry…”)
And then the fighting begins.
At this point, your student is torn between two worlds: the one of the past which includes high school friends and old habits and activities and letting you take care of him/her; and the other one in which s/he misses new college friends terribly, makes plans to visit them in another state, and feels trapped by your attentions, rules, and expectations.
Let me make something clear to everyone involved. At this point, nothing, absolutely nothing, will be as it was this time last year, so there’s no point in trying to make it that way. Too much about your student’s world and life and person has changed. New situations call for new frameworks and new rules, right?
Bearing in mind your student’s internal emotional tug-of-war, have an intentional conversation with him or her about all the things that seem to be issues (curfew, working, – trips, the new bf/gf, or the old bf/gf) and agree on expectations surrounding those issues which are reasonable to both of you.. Your student has, in many ways, become accustomed to not having to answer to someone all the time, and what may come from you as “these are respectful guidelines for cohabiting with anyone, not just your parents” still seems to them like a disciplinary smackdown, or, at the very least, an infringement on their most prized of intangibles: freedom.
Millenial students generally view their families as a team, of which they are a part. They also tend to perform better when the purpose of an expectation/assignment/demand is explained to them. Keep both of these things in mind when you have your conversation as well. Be willing to embrace the fact that your student is a pseudo-adult now, and there are certain things you are going to have to let go. Support your student’s independence (recalling that truly doing this means allowing him/her some room to make mistakes), and challenge him/her to true adult responsibility by clarifying your expectations for courtesy and consideration when cohabiting with other adults.
Jessica Hume, c/o 2005
Director fo Writing and Parent Communications, ARC