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7 Ways to Get Along With a College Student Home for Summer

Avoid helicopter parenting, but don’t be afraid to set limits


spinner image an adult looking with disapproval at their college kid listening to music and playing with their phone on the couch
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When children arrive home from college for the summer, they bring their laundry, the contents of their dorm rooms and some tricky parenting situations along with them.

The reentry to family life for a young adult who has been living independently for nine months can be complicated. For parents who want to establish new ground rules, this can mean a summer fraught with negotiations about jobs, socializing with friends, time on screens, cooking, cleaning and responsibilities.

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Alan Freeman, a 51-year-old attorney living in Potomac, Maryland, and his wife, Remy, had to make some adjustments when their two boys — ages 22 and 20 now — came back to the nest after their freshman years away at college.

“It’s fair to say that we needed to accommodate them in a way that was different than it had been when our boys were in high school,” Freeman says. “The challenge was in recognizing that they’d been living without daily supervision and were used to people no longer making decisions for them.”

Freeman remembers the summer his oldest son, freshly home from school, went out with a friend in nearby Washington, D.C., and decided to stay overnight in the nation’s capital.

“When he was a senior in high school, there was absolutely no way he would be able to be out downtown in D.C. and then crash somewhere,” Freeman says. “We had to accept the fact that that had to be OK.”

Here are some suggestions for keeping the peace this summer:

1. Assess your parenting style

Parenting styles have a lot to do with how successfully the summer may go with your young adult, says William J. Ryan, a clinical psychologist and parent coach in Brooklyn, New York, and Denver.

A more authoritarian style might cause a college student to resist rules and test boundaries.

A more collaborative parenting style at this stage of your child’s life allows you both to “frame discussions around being considerate of other people in the home,” he says. “Your child is now an adult, moving onto even ground with you. You should make requests, not demands or commands.”

If your child still doesn’t comply, individual or family therapy might be the way to go.

2. Communicate expectations early

If you can, try discussing summer expectations — even casually — before your child comes home from school, or as the summer is just kicking off. Is your young adult expected to get a job? Will there be limits on gaming and online use? How much are they expected to pitch in around the house? Will they have use of a car and what are the rules for that use?

A family meeting can help, Ryan says.

For example, he recommends starting with an opening like: “What do you think it’s going to be like to come back to the family after having lived with total freedom? Are you interested in what we’d like from you so that we all get along?”

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Collaboration is important, but parents also shouldn’t feel as if they’re walking a tightrope, Ryan says. “If you have limits, say so,” he says. “You don’t want to feel blackmailed into biting your tongue.”

3. Watch for signs of distress

One thing to keep in mind is that depression, anxiety and suicide are at an all-time high for college students, according to the latest Healthy Minds Network annual survey.

Your child may come home exhibiting irritability, defensiveness or a host of other new symptoms and behaviors, which can create tension in the household. This can be normal, but also watch for these and other warning signs — such as staying in bed all day or feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness — that may mean some additional help is needed.

This is when “a balance of leeway, structure and support” are necessary, Ryan says. This may involve therapy. “The foundational lesson is to know that helpful resources are available,” he says. “Take advantage of them.”

4. Set (some) limits

Creating a peaceful home with college students back in the mix often depends on how family members deal with the three C’s: curfew, chores and communication, says Marybeth Loyd Bock, 57, of Phoenix, who writes regularly about adolescent mental and physical health for parenting resource Grown & Flown.

Bock believes curfews are unnecessary, given that kids have gotten used to self-regulating while away. That said, be sure to ask for a quiet entrance upon returning home late at night, if you’ll be asleep — and provide reassurance that you’ll be available, likely as always, at any hour in an emergency.

But it’s OK to ask for communication if a young adult is likely to return home later than expected, as a common courtesy.

As for chores, “cooking and laundry both seem to be a bone of contention,” Bock says. If your child comes home late at night and makes a huge mess in the kitchen, for instance, “it shouldn't be your job to clean up the next morning.”

When it comes to the kitchen, establishing rules about meals — whether you’re still expected to make dinner or your child is expected at the table every night — is also useful, as are rules about who does your child’s laundry.

“It’s just about being respectful,” says Bock, who has been through this phase with a daughter, now 26, and son, now 24.

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5. Acknowledge that respect is a two-way street

Respect comes through in your tone of voice and how you approach a subject — hallmarks of good communication in a happy household. Giving orders, sounding annoyed or being gruff can be counterproductive.

“You can’t talk to them like they’re 16-year-olds anymore,” Bock says. Instead, parents need to adjust to the fact that their kids are older and more independent after time away at college — and that requires an adjustment in how those kids are viewed and treated.

Approaching young adults with that type of respect is likely to make them more receptive to hearing what you have to say about living together in this new era.

6. Let go of (some) control

Bock goes on to say that the biggest struggles she sees come from houses run by overprotective “helicopter parents” who pay excessive attention to their children’s every move. Freeman agrees, noting that he has seen his fair share of relationships like this that wind up clashing.

“If you can’t let go of control, you're going to have issues. You have to let them become adults around you,” he says. “This is just a new stage in your relationship — and you can be angry or upset or afraid, or you can embrace it as a really neat time in their lives.”

7. Revel in any appreciation

Sometimes kids come home from college and don’t want to do the “adulting” thing anymore, says Bock.

“They’re used to mom and dad doing certain things, so it’s not unexpected for them to revert back to their old ways,” she says.

Christine DeMaria, 50, a speech-language pathologist from Perinton, New York, has seen this from her two daughters. Jenna is now 22; Taylor is 19. Despite the fact that the women kept their college living quarters immaculate, when they came home for a night DeMaria would often find a living room covered in empty cans, hair clips, unfolded blankets, and socks and shoes.

“We laugh about it,” DeMaria says. “Then I ask them to clean up and they do.”

The young adults also now take care of their own laundry — something they weren’t required to do while living at home permanently — without being asked, DeMaria says.

“I think they learned to appreciate me more,” she says. “They went away and didn’t have anyone doing anything for them anymore. I think when they came home they were like, ‘Wow. I had it really good.’”

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