Over the past several weeks, I have been thinking a lot about what it is like for parents who suddenly find themselves living with their bright eyed, I know everything, independent college student home due to COVID-19 again. With college campuses closed, Covid 19 has sent hundreds of thousands of college aged students’ home, and back to their high school bedrooms, family drama, chores, fights with their siblings and curfews.
Recently, I got a call from a college student home due to COVID-19 who suddenly found herself back home with a 9:00 pm curfew, and playing parent to her mom and dad arguing. She pleaded, “can’t I please go back to school”. Likewise, I have had anguished, overly anxious moms and dads call, saying their son or daughter just won’t listen.
College students home due to COVID-19 feel like they are being treated as if they were in high school again, and parents feel as if no one is listening. Truth is, everyone has had to adapt to staying in place and sheltering at home. All of a sudden, college life has been transformed from dorm life to home life, to online classes, social isolation, fear of infection and loss of part time jobs or internships. The use of mind-altering substances by both parties has the potential to increase.
Suddenly, the world is smaller, and the financial independence one may have had from a part time job is gone. They can no longer study in coffee houses, and find themselves learning in bedrooms decorated with old stuffed animals and high school photos. One mother explained in the NY Times, “It’s like a horrific extended Thanksgiving… no one likes the food and I am just cranky”. Parents may be experiencing changes in their incomes or they may be on furlough from their jobs, their portfolio sank or suddenly, they discover they are working from home. Everyone is at risk for increased self-medication: alcohol and other drug abuse, plus anxiety and depression.
Likewise, another college student home due to COVID-19 that I spoke to did not appreciate a 9:00 pm curfew before sheltering in place, and longed for a lock on her door to prevent her anxious yet well-meaning mom from coming in 7 plus times a day, just to see if she is all right. Other college students report they have put notes on the outside of their door, “In class right now, text me if you need me” or “I am a Vegan now and won’t eat your pot roast. Others look in disdain as they are now back to being told what to do.
This is an obviously stressful time for all concerned, and if someone in the family experiences an addiction, it can be doubly difficult. Here are12 tips for parents of college students home due to COVID-19.
1. Discuss reasonable expectations. Expecting them to be at a family dinner every night seems a bit unreasonable. However, having a family dinner once a week is not. College students need not treat their new living situation as if they are in a hotel, but do not need to be treated as a child either.
2. Don’t treat your college student as a guest in a luxury hotel. Your job is not to make their bed, clean their room or clean up the living room. Maid service does not come with home life, and he/she can use the washing machine. They did at college and can do it at home.
3. Expect noise and mess. Some college students love to have papers and books strewn all over their room. They multitask with music etc. … Their learning style may be quite different than yours. Step away, and allow them to be responsible young adults
4. Anxiety, stress and depression and other strong emotions may manifest
themselves. Be sensitive. The American College health Association found in 2017, “39% of college students reported feeling so depressed that they were having trouble functioning and 12 percent said they were overwhelmed.
The CDC provides resources:
5. Stop being intrusive or manipulative. Asking your child about what they are doing or what they plan to do can be seen as manipulative, nagging and overly intrusive. Give them some space. No adult likes to be told what to do or how to do it, your child is no exception
6. Your order and obey days are over. Even though you know you are absolutely positively correct, your ordering days are over. In fact, just to be obstinate and remind you of their independence, your suggestions might be rejected and not heard just because it comes from you. I suggest you say “I am confident that you are bright enough, and resourceful enough to sort things out. If you want suggestions, I am always happy to oblige”
7. Old habits die hard and they may annoy you. We all have habits that
loved ones find annoying. Try to focus on the positive, and not the wild color of hair, face piercings or your sons’ habit of wearing the same thing over and over again.
8. Recognize that your child is no longer a high school student. They are an independent young adult. The rule’s and decorations you had when they were in high school are different now. If they want to redo their room and update it, let them. Their room does not have to be frozen in time.
9. Let them participate in the home. They can be the one with the mask who goes grocery shopping for the family, helps take out the trash or waters the plants etc. If you don’t talk about chores, and who will do what, don’t expect your student to be a mind reader.
10. Create spaces if possible where everyone in the family can have their privacy and a semblance of a routine for yourself.
11. Know that this is new for everyone so adjustment to sheltering in place
is not easy for anyone. Try to enjoy this time together with your college student who is home due to COVID-19 and don’t confuse temporary for permanent. Having structure and flow to the day helps.
12. Enjoy the moments when they still need you. It is almost guaranteed that your young adult will sometimes need you, and act like, or want to be treated like a child again. They might snuggle up on the couch with you, ask for your advice, or kick a soccer ball outside with you. Seize that opportunity! Try for a weekly family dinner. Have open discussions about addiction and other health concerns, and most of all- take care of your dear selves
Feel free to share your stories with me, or, write me with your questions on how to
parent your college aged student.
Some helpful resources:
Dr. Louise Stanger is a speaker, educator, clinician, and interventionist. In 2018, Louise became the recipient of the Peggy Albrecht Friendly House Excellence in Service Award. She is the author of two books, The Definitive Guide to Addiction Intervention-A Collective Strategy, 2018 NY. Ruthledge and Falling Up A Memoir of Renewal 2016. Both are available Amazon www.allaboutinterventions.com