If you have college-age kids coming home for the summer, you may notice these reunions can be fraught. When kids leave home for college – or any other reason, for that matter – oftentimes they discover more independence while away from their parents’ rules. We sat down with Lea Forster, an expert in adolescent issues with Lahey Health Behavioral Services, to discuss preparations for breaks with college students returning home.
What should parents expect the mindset of college students returning home to be?
Lea Forster (LF): It’s a transition. They’ll have different attitudes and expectations than the kid who left home. Some growth may have happened. Be open to their progression forward.
What are some good ways to set boundaries?
LF: Talk with your college student before rule breaking occurs. Start to have expectation conversations before they get home. Be clear ahead of time about what you want. And be on the same page with your co-parent.
What are the biggest potential areas of conflict?
LF: Substance use. Car privileges. Safety. Legal consequences.
When it comes to underage drinking, is there a right way to handle it?
LF: You need to come from a place of empathy. There’s a reason they’re doing it. Substance use is a choice that’s meeting a need. Managing anxiety, boredom, stress, enhancing their experiences. This activity means something to them.
Avoid charged language like “manipulative” and “liar.” It will only put them on the defensive.
When you’re going to have a conversation, wait until they’re sober.
What are some good ways to show you respect their independence?
LF: Be curious. Listen more than lecture. It’s a thinking trap for them if you can impart key information about risks, consequences, and create a lightbulb moment without lecturing.
What are good ways for parents to control their own emotions?
LF: Practice self-care. Workout. Talk to other people. It can be tempting to keep issues in the family, but very healing to realize you’re not alone. You’d be surprised how many people you know are dealing with similar things. They keep it private to avoid judgment.
If you choose to keep things to yourself, online communities are great. They help with managing emotions so you won’t take anger or fear out on your adolescent. They really do want to please you. Try not to make it personal.
Are there any resources you would direct someone to?
Anything else you want to say to parents out there?
LF: Be prepared to be empathetic. Interactions go a lot smoother being open to their new points of view. Don’t minimize their perspective. And you’re not alone in this.
Speak with your Lahey Health physician for additional ideas on how to speak with your college-aged child about boundaries and what to expect when they return home.