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.
Conversation don’ts with your college student
- 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 will 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.
- 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 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 school enough to want to stay there. Tons of students feel homesick and visit home every weekend. If your student is loving school enough not to want to go home, consider that a good thing!
- 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 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 common for college students to go to bed late and sleep late.
- 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.
- 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 won’t make a difference or make them feel forced to call. If they don’t call, it is probably because they enjoy school and have become more independent.
- 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 struggle in a class, saying a certain grade is unacceptable does little to change anything. 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 struggle with.
- 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 is still having trouble. It’s easy to assume your teen isn’t putting in the effort in their classes, but college classes can be very difficult. Many college students struggle academically during their first year because they are adjusting to a different environment and a new way of learning.
- Don’t say: “You’ve changed.”
Instead, say: “You have become so independent.”
The statement “you’ve changed” depends on the context but often comes across negatively. It is 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.
- 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 be told to do a bunch of chores instantly. 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 parent’s approval, and opting for positive statements will help you have a great visit with minimum conflict.