Has your college kid moved back home for the summer? Your family is likely thrilled to have her under your roof again, but may be experiencing a bit of tension, fueled by your undergrad’s emotional state.
Perhaps she’s struggling with her loss of independence, missing college friends, disappointed that high-school friendships aren’t what they used to be, uninspired at her summer job, frustrated to have to follow your rules or just really, really bored.
We asked parenting expert Sue Scheff to help parents better understand the state of mind of their living-at-home-again college student, and how they might help their child best cope and stay healthy and safe during this time of transition. She shared four things to keep in mind.
1. Your child is probably a bit anxious about being home.
Teenagers usually go off to college with a sense of excitement about the prospect of being on their own. It’s often their first taste of freedom from their parent. Your teen has spent a year in a more unstructured and unsupervised environment. She has new friends you probably don’t know. It was a year of growth for her and, in reality, you may not know your child as well as you used to. Now she’s coming home to a family that expects her to be the same person she was when you dropped her off at school almost a year earlier. For all of these reasons, it’s common for her to be a bit anxious about coming home.
One way to ease your teen’s anxiety is to talk with her about what she’s going through. Remain calm, and really listen to what she has to say. Put yourself in her shoes and try to think about how you felt when you were her age. Remember to ask lots of open-ended questions (questions designed to elicit more than just a “yes” or “no” response) that keep conversations moving in the right direction.
2. Establish mutual respect by discussing the rules together
Respect is a two-way street. Make it clear that you’ll respect her independence and will make allowances as she is now maturing into an adult, however, she has to respect your household rules too. Instead of getting caught up in a power play, remain calm and curious and treat her with the respect she wants in return.
As soon as your college kid arrives home, sit down and negotiate the household rules and what you expect from her. Be sure to discuss curfews, chores, if you expect her to get a summer job, as well as your feelings about drinking and substance use. Instead of lecturing, have a conversation, respect her opinion and let you’re her feel heard. You don’t have to agree to her every request, but giving her a voice will make her feel understood.
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Also, use this as an opportunity for your teen to establish what she expects from you in return regarding her own personal wishes. Having an immediate conversation at the beginning of the summer can prevent confrontations during her stay at home.
3. Help your child learn coping skills
Your teen may be struggling to figure out where she belongs. Her friends may have changed, and maybe things aren’t exactly the way she thought they would be. Having a conversation with a sense of understanding and compassion can let her know you are on her side.
Whatever it is she’s facing, help her understand that not everything in life will go the way we want it to. Learning healthy coping skills is an important part of being an adult. And using alcohol or drugs to cope with emotional pain is not a solution.
Show your concern and ask permission to help her find healthy alternatives to dealing with difficult feelings than turning to drugs. Sit down with your teen and have her make a list of positive skills to implement in her day-to-day life while at home. This could be whatever she enjoys, including sports, yoga, listening to music, hiking, dancing or even trying out a new activity. Volunteering is a great way to broaden awareness, meet new people and give back to others and it also instills self-esteem to help make better choices.
However, it’s important to stay alert to possible mental health issues. Between the ages of 18 and 25 are when a lot of disorders, like anxiety, can develop. There is a strong link between mental and physical health issues and the use of drugs and alcohol. Be sure to find mental health resources for your child if needed.
4. If she’s drinking and using drugs.
If you suspect your teen has a substance abuse problem, call the Partnership’s Toll-Free Helpline (1-855-DRUGFREE) to speak with a trained specialist.
Here are expert tips on what to do if you know your 19-25 year old is using.
Don’t overlook the prescription drugs in your home, which teens often have easy access to and can abuse. Be sure your prescription medicines are secured and that expired/unused medicines in your home are properly disposed of.
It is important to note that car crashes are the leading cause of death for US teens. And, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the deadliest for drivers ages 15-20. Drinking and driving, and texting while driving, are incredibly dangerous. Make it clear to your child this behavior is unacceptable, and that if she needs a ride or help getting out of a situation, you are there for her.
Lastly, remind her that you love her and care about her and are there to talk about these – or any other – issues that she’s dealing with. It’s not all about the topic of drinking, drug use and safety – it’s about maintaining a generally healthy, supportive relationship. Your child needs to know that if any problems or difficult situations arise, she can always turn to you for help – whether she’s away at college or back at home.
Thank you to Sue Scheff for her sharing her insights. Sue is an author, parent advocate, cyber advocate and the founder and president of Parents’ Universal Resource Experts Inc. (P.U.R.E., 2001). Over the past decade, P.U.R.E. has gained both national and international recognition for its success in helping thousands of parents locate safe and effective therapeutic schools and programs for their at-risk teens.
And special thanks to Grayson Ponti for his help in preparing this post.