What to Do with the Older Students Home for the Holidays?
Tube and Paw Patrol will probably help with the management of the youngest students who are home for the extended holiday vacation.
Older elementary school, middle school, and early high school students are still more connected to the house rules and haven’t attained driving or legal status.
But, older high school students and students returning home from college are a different matter. Junior and senior high school students and college students will have little patience with being treated like the kids sitting at the little table at the holiday feasts. They will expect to be treated like adults or, at least, be given respect for their age and experience.
High School Students
Juniors and seniors are often free agents with driving privileges. Seniors are aching to be recognized for their status as people who are at the top of the pyramid in high school. They are, after all, SENIORS. In just a matter of months, they will be bidding farewell to home and watching the younger sibling measuring their room for the takeover that will happen as soon as they leave for campus. They will chafe at hearing declarations about the importance of curfews and the admonishments about drinking, vaping, smoking, recreational drugs, and unprotected sex. You want them to make good decisions on their own because before you know it, they will be packing to leave home and begin their life as an adult. The question is always about how much freedom should they have? What are parents to do?
- Recognize that they are no longer receptive to the parental invocation of such old saws as, “As long as you live under this roof you obey my laws.” If you do use this be prepared for the dreaded “whatever” from the student.
- Renegotiate curfew and insist on communication about location, companions, and eta at home. Avoid setting the time for a return, just encourage using the cell phone to stay in touch and allay your parental angst.
- Avoid interrogation about their time away from home. If they don’t volunteer the information or they are reluctant to divulge the information in response to your reasonable question, let it go.
- Don’t burn your PARENTAL CAPITAL on less serious matters like curfew. If you know with reasonable certainty they are putting themselves in harm’s way, that is the time to step in and use your parental prerogatives.
- Remind them that the main thing you want to know is not who they are with or what they are doing but that THEY ARE SAFE.
- They can help with holiday tasks around the house that are suitable to their station in life. Ask them to use the car to run errands to the grocery store, airport pick-ups, etc. Ask them to help with some of the more creative parts of the holidays, cooking, decorating or entertainment.
- Make sure they have all their paperwork for ID, car insurance, cell phones charged, and vehicles in good operating condition.
Returning College Students
The suggestions listed above for the older high school students apply to the college students, but to a much greater and more sophisticated degree. If your student has been away at college, they have been on their own for months with no parental oversight into what they are doing. You have been counting on them to make good decisions without your input. Why change that now and try to reintroduce them to the old house rules? College students living at home have probably already been through the gauntlet of parental inquisition and “the living under my roof” parental axiom. What are parents to do?
- Treat them as adults. That is what they are. They will always be your babies, but they are now adults making adult decisions.
- Communication is the number one request from you to them as they go out.
- Don’t expect them to hang with the family playing Charades or watching Christmas Vacation. They may do those things with you, but the siren call of their contemporaries also home from college will be almost impossible for them to resist. Don’t make it harder for them to join the flow of their friends. You might even encourage them to bring their friends by for food and family fun.
- Remind them that underage drinking can be a big problem (For high school students too.) if they are pulled over for a DUI. The authorities will be out in greater numbers over the holidays. They know the watering holes and may be waiting at the first light for those who are driving obviously impaired. (See number 4 above) Uber and Lyft have made that kind of mistake almost (but not quite) obsolete.
- Plan activities at home that will not interfere with their plans. Preparing their favorite meals for breakfast or lunch will be greatly appreciated but not cut into their social time.
- Accept the reality that time for these students is almost certainly not parental time. We think that the evening news at 10:00 is a reasonable time for bed. For them that is when the favorite bar is just beginning to gather momentum. They will stay out late with their friends and sleep in like we all do on vacation.
- See number 7 above.
Just having your student children home for a long holiday is a joy unto itself. Keeping a light touch on the reestablishment of house rules for older students will work best for all concerned. Don’t be surprised when the returning students seem to be more excited to reconnect with their peers than with their primary family. That is part of the maturation process – not for the students but for the parents. The best thing we can do for our coming-of-age children is to give them enough freedom to stretch their wings and learn to exist outside the nest. By doing so we certainly increase the likelihood that they will be thrilled to be home again. They may even thank you for doing their laundry.
Fred Zuker, Ph.D.