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Finding The Middle Ground

It is summer vacation. Your college student has just completed his first year of school, living away. During spring break, you had a family meeting to discuss what the rules would be for summer vacation. ...

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It is summer vacation. Your college student has just completed his first year of school, living away. During spring break, you had a family meeting to discuss what the rules would be for summer vacation. You made it clear to your college coed that living at home would not be a free-for-all. During this conversation, you set some parameters around curfew and expectations concerning drinking and staying out all night. Your college coed indicated that he understood.

The first few weeks home, your son seemed to navigate the landscape of living at home appropriately. He came home in those first weeks at a reasonable hour. His drinking was almost nonexistent. His communication was reasonable.

As summer progressed, the boundaries were stretched. The curfew became later and later. There were some nights he did not come home at all and didn't call. The occasional drinking became drinking every weekend night, and not just to drink at dinner, but rather to drink with the social objective of getting drunk.

Unfortunately, with the getting drunk came the drinking and driving, which in any circumstance is a lethal combination. The deterioration continued and communication, which was fair, now became poor. You and your son became ships that passed in the night.

As a parent, you felt paralyzed. Your son is nineteen. He just completed his first year of college. While away at school, he maintained an above average GPA and seemed to manage very well socially. Now he is home for the summer and his life seems to be on a collision course. You keep putting off the inevitable - a serious heart to heart about his reckless and irresponsible social behavior. You hesitate to have this conversation because you are afraid that the little communication you share will be further paralyzed and then there will be no communication at all.

A growing number of parents allow themselves to be held hostage by their college age children. Life at home is never the same as life away at school. Most college coeds, beginning in freshman year, have unlimited freedom and little or no accountability. They can come and go as they please and have no one to answer to. If they want to drink and cut class, they can. If they want to sleep in or sleep out, they just do it. They do not need permission to negotiate their private and personal lives as well as their academic lives.

After a year of unlimited freedom with little accountability, it is very hard to come home and live with Mom and Dad's rules, especially if they place social restrictions upon them and call them to live by civil authority and basic respect.

There is no handbook for raising college students, especially when they're home for summer vacation. Ideally, it would be great for parents and college age students to sit down, have a heart to heart and try to find a middle ground, so that everyone can live with minimal stress.

However, this hoped for conversation does not imply that college students should not expect to live by certain rules and guidelines. In the real world, everybody lives by rules. If you don't comply with the rules, you are held accountable. In real life, there are no get out of jail free cards, or mommy and daddy rescuing you from your social choices.

We do our college age students a disservice by letting them run wild for the summer. They need to know how to be self-reliant and independent. They also need to learn how to be responsible and respectful of civil, moral and family law. If you want to live in your parent's home, you should expect to live with reasonable rules and expectations.

It is irresponsible of parents to tolerate underage drinking, even among college students, during the summer. Some parents will say that college students drink while they are away at school and no school authority holds them accountable. So, how can they hold them accountable during summer vacation? That kind of thinking and reasoning is careless and sloppy. Because our underage children drink while they are away at school is no justification for their drinking while home for summer vacation.

As parents, we want to empower our college students to be independent and to make their own choices and decisions, but they still need guidance and feedback from us. Even if they reject and disregard what we say, we still have a parental obligation to challenge them and share our concerns.

Our homes should not become flophouses during the summer. Too many college kids check in, leave their laundry to be washed and empty our refrigerator on a regular basis. Our home should be their home, and we should expect within reason that they participate in family life while they are home for the summer. This means trying to make dinner when there is a family dinner, communicating with us about what they are doing and working hard at not engaging in illegal social behavior.

Parenting is not easy. When we become parents, we do not receive a manual that contains the do's and don'ts for parenting teenagers. It's a full time job that demands we work on being open and flexible. It demands that we work on our communication and listening skills. It also expects that we be clear and consistent in our expectations and guidelines. We have to lead by example and practice what we preach. Any teenager can see through hypocrisy and phoniness.

Our college students need us to call them to accountability and responsibility. It's not about perfection, it's about progress. Before your son or daughter returns home from college for the summer, you should be clear in your own mind as to what you expect of him or her as a family member. You should be clear on your social expectations. Being vague and/or ambiguous runs the risk of setting your college student up for failure.

JR is nineteen. He just finished his freshman year at a small college in New England. He loved living away from home. He was very involved in campus life. He loved the parties. He loved living on campus, but he was not a fan of his early morning classes. Unfortunately, cutting became a pastime. It caused his first year grade point average to hover on the verge of his being asked to leave.

When he got home from school, his parents asked about his grades. He danced around the issue and said he passed everything, but did not do as well as he had thought. His parents did not make a big issue out of his marginal report card, but reminded him that they were not supporting his being away at school merely to play. He assured them that he learned his lesson this past year and that sophomore year would be different.

For Jr, the transition home for summer vacation was not easy. He found it hard to live by his parent's rules. He had gotten very comfortable coming and going as he pleased. He was also used to partying every weekend until the early hours of the morning. Needless to say, his parents were not pleased with that social behavior.

Within the first few weeks, JR was coming home drunk a few nights a week. His parents confronted him immediately. It became a screaming match. He threatened to move out. Then the communication broke down altogether.

Shortly after that confrontation, JR was at a party. He drank so much that he developed alcohol poisoning. He ended up in the local emergency room, scared to death. His parents were beside themselves. They did not know what to do. JR was underage and continuing to drink - not just socially, but recklessly. Their dilemma, and every parent's dilemma: what do you do with underage teenagers who consistently drink and act recklessly, putting themselves and all those around them at risk?

What do you do? Unfortunately, too many parents of college age students are electing to do nothing - and that is sad!