There are some universal milestones most teens and families face as they embrace their returning college student and prepare for their graduated senior to launch. I think it is very important to have a clear understanding of typical challenges during this family expansion and contraction process.
For returning college students, remember they have been living independently and very often keep wildly different schedules than for those of us who work or have young children. They also have been with their friends essentially 24 x 7, making their own decisions, managing their own time and money.
My advice for families, is to have candid and open conversation about expectations regarding work, substance use, schedules, and money. Dialog can go a very long way to prevent consternation and and conflict. Reminding them, the family house is not a college dorm allows for everyone to “get on the same page”, hopefully!
For those who will be buying Twin X-long sheets, etc, as you prepare for college drop off, remember the summer may feel a bit like an emotional roller coaster. It is very typical for teens to feel both excited but also apprehensive and anxious. It is not uncommon for anger and tempers to increase, and may be a hidden expression of stress and anxiety. It is essential to do more than just shop for college essentials.
I like to include in the essentials conversation list:
- Managing good decisions on their own
- Substance use and exposure to new and different
- Choosing new friends
- Managing time and money
- Emotions: anxiety, sadness, loneliness, feeling homesick
- Asking for help if need
I love to quote my good friend and colleagues, Dr. Ned Hallowell. He reminds us that we can never spoil our children with too much love. And that the most important things we give our children are connection and the ability to handle adversity. Use the time this summer wisely and thoughtfully as we welcome home our returning college kids, and as we prepare to launch our seniors.