With the school year coming to an end, you may find it hard to believe that your daughter or son has completed the first year of college. Although you are probably very excited to have your student return home for all or part of the summer, you may not be sure what to expect. Welcoming a son or daughter back home can be exciting and challenging for both parents and students.
As they make the transition from adolescence to adulthood, students are growing into their adult identities. You likely have noticed some changes in your student throughout the year. Your student may have become more independent, confident, and “adult-like.” On the other hand, some students may be struggling with the pressures of college and handling their newfound freedoms.
As a parent, it is important that you be aware of the changes your student has experienced during the past year. While they may have taken initial steps towards independence and adulthood, they may also still be dependent upon you for many of their needs. As students navigate the transition from adolescence into adulthood, they may be a source of tremendous parental pride or possibly frustration and concern. Oftentimes both. Since your student has been living with a different set of rules and expectations, conflicts may arise this summer around schedules, house rules, work responsibilities, and leisure time. For example, your student may have grown accustomed to staying up until 3:00 a.m. and waking at noon. Or perhaps you expect your student to work during the summer, while they see the summer as a time to “chill” and hang out with friends. These challenges and potential conflicts can be better navigated by discussing mutual expectations ahead of time.
Even though it may be difficult for some of us to fully remember what it was like to be in the early stages of adulthood, it is important that we at least attempt to understand our students. They are in the process of finding out who they are, as well as figuring out their abilities, limitations, interests, and values. Reflecting on your own experience as a young adult, may give you insight into how to better relate to your son or daughter. You might ask yourself: how did you want your parents to treat you? What was helpful and not helpful to you as young adult? What type of support did you need? Asking these questions may help you better understand your student’s needs and frame of mind.
If you have concerns about your student’s behavior, it may be best to let them know you are sharing your concerns because you care. It can be helpful for your student to hear why you are concerned for them. Many relationship problems can be avoided or resolved simply by understanding one another. In approaching such conversations, it’s important to keep in mind college students’ growing autonomy. While it can be frustrating to watch a student make decisions that you believe are unhealthy, sometimes students must flounder or fall on their face in order figure out what’s best for them. (This is both the beauty and the peril of living in a relatively free and unregimented society.) Also, while you and your student learn to relate to each other in new ways, it is important for both of you to be open to compromise.
Hopefully, the upcoming summer will be a great opportunity to re-connect with your son or daughter. They will likely have stories and experiences they are eager to share. Since they are in the process of becoming adults, this can be a time to relate to your student in a more adult-to-adult manner. Most students welcome the increased freedom and responsibilities of young adulthood, while still counting on you for parental guidance and support.
Brian Parks, Ph.D.