Nine Things NOT to Say to Your Teen When They’re Home from College

Having a college student forces a parent to balance wanting to be there for them and help them, while still allowing them to remain independent and grow as a person. When they come home from college, it can be hard to determine what rules there should be and the right things to say to them.

mom and teen daughter
Say THIS instead of THAT when your teen comes home from college. (@SmitBruins via Twenty20)

Conversation don’ts with your college student

  1. Don’t say: “You’re not spending enough time with the family while you are back.” 

Instead say: “I know you want to see all of your friends from home, but is there a time we can set up a family dinner?” 

When college students are home from school, they are going to be eager to catch up with as many of their high school friends as possible. Let them hang out with their friends but ask if they can schedule a time for a family dinner or family outing so that you can spend quality time with them before they head back to school. 

  1. Don’t say: “Why don’t you visit home more?”

Instead say: “I miss you a lot but I’m so glad you are having so much fun at college that you don’t feel the need to come home all the time.”

Although you mean well by asking them to come home more, it may make them feel guilty for not coming home to see the family. In reality, it is great that your student is enjoying their school enough to want to stay there. Tons of students feel homesick, and visit home every weekend. If your student is loving school enough to not want to go home, consider that a good thing! 

  1. Don’t say: “Why are you sleeping in so late?”

Instead say: “I am glad you are using this time to recharge and get some rest.”

College is an extremely busy time in your teen’s life. They are learning to balance classes, homework, extracurriculars, friends, exercise, and much more! Coming home from school is a nice break from the chaos of college life, where they can just rest and sleep in. Also, it is pretty common for college students to go to bed late and sleep late.

  1. Don’t say: “You’ve gained/lost weight.” 

Instead say: “How is the food in the dorms?” 

Don’t bring up your teen’s weight after not seeing them for a while, unless you suspect a health problem. They have a completely new diet living in the dorms or in their apartment, so it is totally normal for their weight to fluctuate.

  1. Don’t say: “You never call or text me.”

Instead say: “I would love to hear from you more.”

The first statement can make them feel bad for not reaching out more. Rest assured, your teen isn’t not calling on purpose. College life is busy and they may not be time to call or text daily. Asking them to call more often probably won’t make a difference or will make them feel forced to call. If they don’t call, it is probably because they are enjoying school and becoming more independent. 

  1. Don’t say: “We don’t get (insert grade) in this house.”

Instead say: “Do you want to get a tutor for (insert class)?” 

If they are struggling in a class, saying a certain grade is unacceptable does little to change anything. In fact, it makes them feel worse about struggling–they likely won’t tell you if they are having difficulty in the future. Offering your support is a much more effective tactic to help them improve in whichever class they are struggling with. 

  1. Don’t say: “You’re not working hard enough.”

Instead say: “I know college classes are hard. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help.”

The first statement is very hurtful to a student who may be trying as hard as they can but are still having trouble. It’s easy to assume your teen isn’t putting in the effort in their classes, but remember college classes can be very difficult. Many college students struggle academically during their first year because they are adjusting to a completely different environment and a new way of learning. 

  1. Don’t say: “You’ve changed.” 

Instead say: “You have become so independent.” 

The statement “you’ve changed” depends on the context, but oftentimes comes across negatively. It is totally normal for your college student to have become more independent, mature, and outspoken while being away at their university. The words “you’ve changed” can be hurtful even if you don’t intend them that way. You should say “you’ve changed” when you can follow it up with something positive. 

  1. Don’t say: “You need to help around the house more.” 

Instead say: “If you have some free time, I would love your help with (insert chore).” 

The first statement is generic and rude. College students want to come home and relax. They don’t want to instantly be told to do a bunch of chores. Both statements get the point across; however, the second one comes across as more gentle will be less likely to lead to conflict.

Remember that college can be hard and home is your teen’s soft spot to land. Using the “instead” statements will make a difference in your relationship with them. College students are independent yet they still want their parents’ approval and opting for positive statements will help you have a great visit with a minimum of conflict.

More Great Reading:

Your College Student’s First Thanksgiving Break Home

About Madeleine Korn

Madeleine Korn is a recent graduate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. In the 2019 to 2020 school year, she was the advertising director for The Bottom Line newspaper at UC Santa Barbara. Prior to that, she was an intern for United Airlines in both 2018 and 2019, where she was involved in projects to improve the customer experience. She loves writing and creating videos and really enjoys working for Grown and Flown!

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