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Ask The Expert: Should My College Kid Have Rules For Summer?

Dear Your Teen:

How do you set up summer rules and household guidelines when your college students return home for the summer?

Here are two scenarios:

  1. My teenagers are out late at night, but my husband and I have to get up early for work. How do we stay sane?
  2. My younger kids are not allowed to fill up on junk food before dinner. But I feel uncomfortable dictating what my college student—who’s been making these decisions for himself for a year—should do when it comes to these kinds of things. So the other night he was eating potato chips before dinner and my younger teens protested it wasn’t fair.


EXPERT | Marcia Hanlon, LCSW

Welcome to a new phase in parenting! Right when you think you’ve got the kid launched, he’s back, and his presence in the household is disruptive. He has brought home new habits and a sense of independence. His new routines will inevitably clash with yours from time to time.

Just because it is summer for college students doesn’t mean they get to upend everyone’s routine. What needs to remain consistent is how your household functions. Therefore, the returning college kid needs to adapt to the rules of your household.

A family meeting is probably necessary to start the conversation about how things have changed. Enter the discussion with a positive attitude in order to avoid conflicts that end up with shouts of “That’s not fair!”

To engage everyone in a family discussion, make sure you acknowledge and validate what everyone has to say and how they feel. A way to acknowledge is by paraphrasing back what they’ve said. You can validate by listening well and saying, “That’s a good point” or “I can see that’s important to you.”

While you certainly will acknowledge growth, point out that he needs to be aware that his actions affect others in the household. It’s the same way he’s taught in a college residence hall that there are rules to protect the overall community.  It’s not realistic – or healthy – to expect him to act like he did in high school but that doesn’t mean he can do whatever he wants.

Summer for college students is much different.

Appeal to his reasoning skills. Have him figure out a way to respect your rules for summer while maintaining his “adult” status. I would think that he would find it unfair for his younger siblings to have more privileges than he had while in high school.

Your high school teen needs to be validated that she is still important to you and has rights and feelings that need to be acknowledged by you and her sibling. While the college sibling has been away, she has gotten used to having all of your attention. She may resent losing some of that attention when the older sibling returns from college. Your high school teen can grow as well by participating in this family discussion about rules and independence.

Need more articles on summer college students?

In the end, though, it’s your house. Your rules. But if everyone gets to contribute to the conversation, they will be more likely to go along and less likely to fight.

Marcia Hanlon, LCSW, is a clinical social worker who has spent 20 years as a therapist in the mental health counseling offices of two private colleges. She currently is the Director of the College Readiness & Completion Initiative for the Associated Colleges of Illinois and maintains a college access website:

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