Dear Monica, My son is coming home for his first vacation from college. With his newfound independence, I am struggling with how the household will run smoothly. How do you handle a teenager who has expectations of no rules? —S.M., Lafayette Hill
College-age children are a unique breed. Freshman are all of 18 years old and think of themselves as adults. Yes, they have been away for a whopping three months without your breathing down their necks about grades, amount of sleep needed to function, and proper attire when the weather is bitter cold—but now they are home again. If you think a week of Thanksgiving with them in the house is bad, just wait until you’ve got four months of summer break.
Here are some tips, so you don’t need to put your seatbelt on too tight.
- In your house there are still rules. It is fine that your child loves college and is on their own successfully, but what happens at college should stay at college. Talk to your teen and jointly figure out what should be a reasonable curfew. The reality is that most parents can not fall asleep until they hear their door creak open late night, giving them the knowledge that their child is safely home.
- If there are siblings in the house, respect has to be given to their needs. You don’t want younger ones being woken up by late night noise or older ones being disturbed if they are in grad school living at home. Try to strive for a consistent parenting style over the years. Once you give in to one kid, you are doomed by example for the others.
- College often evolves into a nocturnal lifestyle which does not sync up with regular folk. In the real world, your child will need to get a job for the summer and over extended holiday breaks. There will no longer be the option of missing class when attendance is not taken or all nighters trying to bang out a paper. A boss expects employees to be awake and functional from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., which is hard to do when bed time is at 3 a.m.
- Going away to college is not a given. It is a privilege and a very pricey one at that. Your expectations of your children should not just be when they are under your roof, but when they are away as well.
- A kid’s version of being on their own and making good choices and your version are probably very different. Take the example traveling home from late night parties on a college campus alone versus with a friend. Here is a clear situation of common sense versus naivety.
The fact is that research shows adolescences crave parameters. Why, one might ask? Because they are overwhelmed with decisions and are relieved when the choices are made for them. There are plenty of times when they know right from wrong, but succumb to peer pressure. Going to college and having a taste of freedom does not take care of this dilemma. In many instances it makes it worse. It is your job to be the parent and not apologize for that. It is totally normal for your kid to be pissed off at times and not speaking to you. Take it as a compliment. It means you were right.