Guest Post: Laura Burkhart, MD

Boomerangs

Let’s walk through a common scenario of a college freshman coming home for break.

You are so excited that your teen is coming home for the long holiday weekend.  It has been several months since you dropped them off at college and you have a bursting schedule of exciting events and family get-togethers planned.  When your teen comes home, they head straight to their old room, dump off their laundry and then call old friends.  Before you know it they are heading out for the night without any consideration for the big dinner you planned.  You wonder, “do they even want to spend time with the family??!”

Chances are if you have a teen in college, you have experienced this.   College students are commonly referred to as “boomerangs”-coming in and out of the house, sometimes leaving no trace except dirty socks and dishes.  This can be very frustrating and confusing, but there a few things you can do to prepare for such transient homecomings.  So how can you make the most of the time your newly independent teen has at home?

  • Manage your expectations: Your teen has just come from complete autonomy at school and may have some of their own adjustments going back to house rules. This means you might need to renegotiate potential curfews and chores that are expected.
  • Pre-planning: Before your teen comes home, talk with them about what is on their agenda for the trip.  If you have significant activities that you want them to participate in, discuss them with your teen beforehand.  It is important for the family to continue with their lives, but don’t feel rejected if your teen isn’t spending all their time with you.
  • Ground rules: Even though your teen might be managing their own lives at college, you should still make the expectation that when they are home they need to be respectful of the family.  If there are non-negotiable behaviors then explain them to your teen and your reasoning.  Avoid the general statement “Because I said so!” as this can flare up arguments.

If this is the first time your teen is coming home, you might be shocked by how different they seem.  It is very normal especially during the first year of college for your teen to try on different identities.  Whether this be rainbow colored hair, new tattoos or completely different political views then the rest of the family.  It is crucial to remember that expressing their independence is developmentally appropriate for late adolescents and very important to your teen that you acknowledge their new found identity.  This can be challenging depending on the changes, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be in complete agreement.  But this can be a great time to open a discussion on what’s important to them while sharing your own experiences of separation and exploration when you were a teen.

Remember this is a transition time and everyone is learning their new roles in the family.  There are many resources to help parents successfully guide their teen through college.  Check out “You’re on Your Own (But I’m Here if You Need Me): Mentoring Your Child During the College Years” by Majorie Savage