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College From Home—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

Thanksgiving brought our college student home for the rest of the semester, and next semester, too.

She’s trying to take this in stride – after all the disappointments that Covid-19 brought on her senior year in high school. Her dad and I, and two younger siblings, made a big deal of welcoming her back home, especially knowing that she’s not totally thrilled with the whole situation. How can we best support her at home when she really wants to be on campus at a big university?

Way Off Campus

Dear WOC,

The pandemic is definitely affecting many aspects of our lives, and college life is no exception. One thing in your family’s favor is that you are not at all alone in this. Your daughter’s school is one of many that have made the decision to close campuses to prevent the spread of the virus. Each college or university, just like other industries, must decide how to best carry out their mission while following guidelines for social distancing. Rest assured that “best practices” are being shared among campuses nationwide as they proceed with their plans to keep everyone safe. 

College Connections

Online courses have been around for quite some time, so it’s not too hard to imagine the transition to ALL courses being conducted this way. As a freshman, your daughter needn’t worry about courses that can’t make the switch. With vaccines on the way, by next fall semester students should be able to return to campus and any courses that would be best taken in person can wait until then. 

Universities have many other resources that can be accessed online. See if your daughter knows how to access the digital resources of the school’s library and other online collections of information and materials. Some campuses are connected to museums, research labs, teaching hospitals, and the like. 

From small colleges to large universities, students can get health information, if not limited services, remotely. GritX from the University of California, is an online resource for basic mental health that is available to anyone with an internet connection. However, looking toward getting back to campus eventually, it would be good for your daughter to be familiar with resources at her own school.

See if your daughter knows her way around her online campus to find a schedule for special seminars, interest and service clubs, and virtual entertainment. More than movies, classmates can join each other in a watch party for comedy and concerts through Facebook and other platforms arranged by the office of student activities.  

Functional Facilities

The main goal of a college student, of course, is to pursue an education. Compared to the many built-in supports for this on campus you may find it challenging to simulate an academic atmosphere at home. Can there be a household schedule for “quiet times” conducive to schoolwork? What space can your college student reserve for her books, papers, pens, computer, etc. so she doesn’t have to worry about sibling infringement? What about quick access to project materials she may need? Work out an agreement about using family resources such as a car or online shopping to fulfill an urgent need for items that would otherwise be easily obtained from a store on campus.

Resident Responsibilities

The phase of development known as adolescence is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood. It takes a few, often rocky, years. A college student living away from home is forced to learn to feed herself, wash her clothes, manage her own time, and other tasks of independence. Chores are often a sore spot between teens and parents, mostly because the teen has self-centered, often short-term, priorities. Meanwhile, the parent sees holes needing to be filled to assure a functional adulthood.

Discuss (and post) expectations for shared use of the laundry machines, kitchen, etc. As a resident of the household, it behooves everyone to respect the needs of the other residents. This includes working with and around each other’s use of the kitchen, bathroom, television, etc. 

The pandemic has added an extra layer of precautions on the social needs of teens, just as it has affected the ability of everyone to have in-person interactions with people not living with us. Teens are known for risky behavior, however the risk of catching and spreading Covid-19 is very serious. Insist on safe socializing – outdoors is safer than indoors, masks lower risks, and the fewer people the better. Impress your college student with the importance of keeping track of contacts in case anyone, including herself or a member of her family, comes down with symptoms or a positive Covid-19 test. In other words, everyone must keep a tight bubble and socialize responsibly.

Appropriate Advice  

Because you have lived through your own teen years, and you have known this particular teen all of her life, it is very tempting to take this opportunity to insert yourself with your well-meaning wisdom. Beyond critical health and safety directives, restrain yourself. If she wants your advice, she’ll ask for it. She should be checking in with people her own age, facing similar issues, to get a good handle on handling her life. Mistakes are part of it. She is also learning what constitutes a good friendship and how to manage her relationships. She is learning whom to trust for advice. This is an area of independence that will evolve naturally as she becomes a better judge of others’ expertise. You may be familiar with this perspective, “At eighteen I couldn’t believe how little my parents knew. At twenty-one, I was amazed at how much they’d learned in three years.” 

Considering the unusual year we are having, we are all learning a lot.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist and founding director of Chesapeake Children’s Museum.

Read more of her Good Parenting columns by clicking here.

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