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College students who come home for summer break often want just that — a break. Parents, meanwhile, typically want their kids to be more productive, whether that means working, volunteering or simply getting off the couch and out of the house.
“I hear a lot about this because it’s the bulk of my summer business,” says Shane G. Owens, a board-certified psychologist on Long Island, New York.
But while this may not be an uncommon problem, it’s certainly a frustrating one — for everyone.
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It comes down to “a mismatch of expectations,” says Alyson Schafer, 58, a family counselor and parenting expert based in Toronto.
Here’s how Schafer sees it: Kids think they should be able to come home, relax and be pampered — having someone do their laundry, make them meals and lend them a car — because they’ve worked so hard at school. Parents, meanwhile, often have to adjust to their “children” no longer being kids but rather young adults who don’t want to be micromanaged and told what to do.
“There’s a lot of conflict that happens if we don’t renegotiate the terms and expectations for parties on both sides of the equation about what the summer is going to look like,” she says.
Start by asking a question
Owens recommends keeping in mind that college students in normal times experience overwhelming amounts of stress — and that these are not normal times. In many cases, the past few years of pandemic living has interrupted the higher education experience they expected. They’ve had to deal with a switch to online learning, regardless of whether they were comfortable doing so; had to adjust to limits on socializing; and may have missed out on programs like internships and study abroad opportunities that were canceled due to COVID-19.
Students are also having to navigate “the shortcomings of adults who are supposed to make the world manageable and a good place to be,” Owens says. “The pandemic violated student, campus and family expectations.”
So it may be helpful to start by asking your child a question: “What would you like to accomplish this summer?”