When Your College Kid is Home for Summer Vacation

    Has your child moved back home from college for the summer? Your family is likely thrilled to have them under your roof again, but may be experiencing a bit of tension, fueled by your undergrad’s emotional state.

    Perhaps they’re struggling with loss of independence, missing college friends, disappointed that high school friendships aren’t what they used to be, uninspired at their summer job, frustrated to have to follow rules or just really, really bored.

    The following guidance is intended to help better understand where their heads may be at so you can help them cope and stay healthy and safe during a time of transition.

    They're 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 parents. Your teen has spent a year in a more unstructured and unsupervised environment. They have new friends you probably don’t know. It was a year of growth for them and, in reality, you may not know your child as well as you used to. Now they’re coming home to a family that expects them to be the same person they were when you dropped them off at school almost a year earlier. For all of these reasons, it’s common for them to be a bit anxious about coming home.

    One way to ease your teen’s anxiety is to talk with them about what they’re going through. Remain calm, and really listen to what they have to say. Put yourself in their shoes and try to think about how you felt when you were their 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.

    Establish mutual respect by discussing the rules together

    Respect is a two-way street. Make it clear that you’ll respect your teen’s independence and will make adjustments as they are now maturing into an adult. However, your teen has to respect your household rules too. Instead of getting caught up in a power play, remain calm and curious, and treat them with the respect they want in return.

    As soon as your college kid arrives home, sit down and negotiate the household rules and what you expect from them. Be sure to discuss curfews, chores, and if you expect them to get a summer job, as well as your feelings about drinking and substance use. Instead of lecturing, have a conversation, respect your teen’s opinions and let them feel heard. You don’t have to agree to your teen’s every request, but giving them a voice will make them feel understood.

    Also, use this as an opportunity for your teen to establish what they expect from you in return regarding their own personal wishes. Having an immediate conversation at the beginning of the summer can prevent confrontations during their stay at home.

    Help your child learn coping skills.

    Your teen may be struggling to figure out where they belong. Their friends may have changed, and things may not be exactly the way they thought they would be. Having a conversation with a sense of understanding and compassion can let your child know you are on their side.

    Whatever it is they’re facing, help them 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 other substances to cope with emotional pain is not a solution.

    Show your concern and ask permission to help your teen find healthy alternatives to dealing with difficult feelings rather than turning to substances. Sit down with your teen and have them make a list of positive skills to implement in their day-to-day life while at home. This could be whatever they enjoy, 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. 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, a lot of mental health disorders such as anxiety can develop. There is a strong link between mental and physical health issues and substance use. Be sure to find mental health resources for your child if needed.

    Have a plan for if your teen is drinking or using drugs

    Don’t overlook the prescription drugs in your home, which teens often have easy access to and can use. 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. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is the deadliest for drivers aged 15-20. Driving under the influence and texting while driving are incredibly dangerous. Make it clear to your child that this behavior is unacceptable, and that if they need a ride or help getting out of a situation, you are there for them.

    Lastly, remind your teen that you love them, care about them, and are there to talk about these – or any other – issues that they’re 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 problem or difficult situation arises, they can always turn to you for help – whether they’re away at college or back at home.

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