YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Same Kids, Different Rules

Children home from college have a way of turning Mom and Dad's new universe upside-down. The key is to respect each other's autonomy--and to look to September.


It's an annual migration, as predictable as the swallows' return to Capistrano. Every spring, millions of college students pack up their dorm rooms and head for home to try the patience of parents who have just gotten used to life without them. Toting bags of dirty laundry and sporting new attitudes, opinions and independence, they squeeze back into the nest, where they stay up all night, sleep all day and eat everything in sight.

Or at least that's how it seems to many parents.

In her job as coordinator of student athletic support services at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, Conn., and as a mother of three, Bobbie Koplowitz has observed the issue from both sides and agrees that the summer transition from college to home is difficult for kids and parents alike.

"Both have been on their own for the entire school year. They're not the same people who separated in the fall," Koplowitz says. "Kids have been off making their own decisions. Parents have had a new freedom and privacy. They may be even feeling guilty that they've actually enjoyed the child's absence. When everyone finds themselves together again, the old rules and ways of relating often don't work."

Koplowitz starts counseling students a few months before the school year ends, encouraging them to line up jobs or volunteer positions and to prepare for some changes in lifestyle as they reenter a family environment. She also lets parents know that having the kids home from college may trigger old conflicts and introduce new ones.

"Kids may come home with purple hair, pierced whatevers and new opinions," she notes. "Keep in mind these are experiments with independence, not necessarily lifelong commitments. Don't get into a conflict over things that may change in a few months."

The most important thing, agrees Barbara Newman, author (with husband Philip) of "When Kids Go to College: A Parents' Guide to Changing Relationships" (Ohio University Press, 1993), is to avoid making the house a battleground for the summer.

"The way parents and kids learn to relate during these comings and goings is laying the groundwork for relationships when the kids are adults," she says.

Newman recommends that parents identify important issues--jobs, money, use of the car, household chores, participation in family activities--and plan a family meeting to discuss expectations. Be open to compromise.

Newman says parents striving for a balance between their standards and those of returning offspring will experience the easiest transition.

"Respect the autonomy they've developed during the year. Don't tell them what to eat for breakfast or when to go to bed. Do tell them not to bring the car home with an empty gas tank or that they're expected to get a job or help out around the house," she says. "Focus on the things that directly impact the rest of the family."

Other examples? If you want household common spaces kept clean--no dirty dishes left in the sink or wet towels on the shared bathroom floor--say so. Then, as a trade-off, try to ignore the condition of students' bedrooms.

If you don't want kids coming in at 4 in the morning, or do expect a call if they're going to be very late, tell them. On the other hand, don't expect that a high school curfew of midnight is going to be well received.

To ease the transition, Newman suggests parents remember to build in private time for themselves, as well as look for ways the whole family can relate. When parents go off on dates alone, for example, all parties get a much-needed break from too much togetherness and can appreciate shared activities.

Above all, she says, everyone needs to keep a sense of humor.

"Remember that it's a period of adaptation, not a permanent situation," she says. "September really will come."

Los Angeles Times Articles