Rome Wasn't Built In A Day

Written by fatherfrank  |  17. July 2003

It is summer vacation. Your oldest son is home for his first summer vacation as a college student. As far as you know (and he tells), he did pretty well academically. You received no disciplinary letters about his social behavior during the year.
As a parent, you know you are going to have to face some tough questions about your college student's summer social life. Your son is probably going to expect a free-for-all with little to no accountability. He will want to come and go at will. He will want to drink and party with his friends to all hours, stay out all night and/or stay over a friend's house whenever.
How do you respond to those expectations without wanting to kill your son? He presents his concerns or expectations as entitlements. He creates a dynamic at home that makes it difficult to deal with. You have other children who are watching you like hawks.
As a norm, we want to be fair and reasonable. However, part of the struggle is that our children don't come with instructions at birth. Most of us learn by trial and error. On a good day, that can be very painful.
Therefore, how do you respond to a college coed who is home for his first summer vacation as a college student? On a number of levels, it would be much easier to have no expectations of your son or daughter and to let the free-for-all begin.
Some parents believe that what we don't know won't hurt us. These parents don't want to rock the boat. Some of these parents would like to freeze dry their college students and thaw them out when they are about thirty-five.
Parenting high school and college age students is probably the most challenging enterprise parents must embrace during our active parenting role. Every day can be a challenge.
As parents, we need to pick our battles and not get distracted by the little things. Most social - family issues do not have to become world war events.
To help in selecting what is important, rank order those issues that are most important to you and your children. Don't get distracted by things and events. They change like the wind. People and human relationships don't change that easily.
Most of us want our children to respect our home and us. What can you do to foster a deeper respect for you and your home? As adults, how do we treat each other? Are we inclusive and respectful with our language? Do we tend to be judgmental, condemning, excluding and controlling in our attitudes and actions?
Our children don't miss a trick. If we want them to be respectful, we need to be respectful. We have to respect their opinions, their values and their choices. We do not have to agree with or endorse them.
We need to be sensitive as to how we critique their friends. We don't have to like them or even welcome them in our home, but we must learn how to work around them even if they make us uncomfortable.
Priority issues should be respect, responsibility and accountability. Included in respect is the expectation that to live at home and enjoy all its' fringe benefits, it is reasonable to expect all family members to respect and comply with all state and federal laws.
In simple terms, for all children under twenty-one, it means no drinking and drugging, including weed. The hard part with this is how to empower compliance without causing resentment and hostility.
Unfortunately, there is no magic formula that works. But there are some guiding principles that can help. Consistency is key. Don't legislate that which you cannot or will not enforce. Try to engage your college student to comply rather than have him or her resentfully comply. Positive conversation is more life giving than rigid dictates. It is not about perfection, but rather progress.
Try to create a climate where your college student feels in control of his/her life and that he/she has choices and options. Minimize the non-negotiable issues. Short of your son or daughter asking you to condone breaking the law, find ways to compromise. Remember, real compromise is not about winning or losing, but rather it is about accepting less than everything you wanted. It is a give and take dynamic.
Many of the things we worry about as parents are not life issues. They may be issues of concern, they may be issues that annoy us, but are they issues that will substantially alter your son or daughter's life? Does it really matter if your son has purple or blond hair? Are nose rings, toe rings and forty-two body piercings going to make your son or daughter a bad person? Even tattoos, in the grand scheme of life, will they change your son or daughter's innate goodness or worth as a person? Probably not.
However, those behavioral choices, which are temporary, will aggravate many of us. In some families, fathers and sons will end up not speaking. Some mothers will take those social choices as personal offenses against them. Family members will become estranged for extended periods of time.
Although these concerns should not be dismissed lightly, we need to continuously assess what weight we give them. College students should ultimately determine the color of their hair, what designs are engraved on their bodies and what metal parts they want to shackle their appearance with.
College curfew is another hot topic. Ideally, if our college coeds are honest and trustworthy, why should it matter what time they roll in? If they are doing the right things, it should not matter.
Trust becomes foundational. If one's son or daughter is consistently lying, getting over on the system and doing things that are inappropriate, then curfew becomes a centerpiece for concern.
TJ is nineteen. He is a first year college coed. His parents have always been consistent with their concerns. No drugs, no alcohol and no sleeping out without permission. Before TJ came home for the summer, he agreed to all of that.
June was a reasonable month. He seemed drug and alcohol free. He came home at reasonable hours. He was respectful and cooperative. By early July, he was more moody. He was pushing the curfew and stayed out all night a few times. When confronted about that choice, he was arrogant and defensive.
His parents complained they could not trust him. His non-compliance was becoming more the norm than the exception. He finally agreed to a family meeting.
Initially, the meeting began very calmly. Quickly tempers flared and many unkind things were said by all involved. After a lot of yelling and screaming TJ admitted that he had given in to peer pressure and was non-compliant.
He also expressed his on-going frustration with his parents' twenty nagging questions day in and day out. TJ especially felt that his mother was relentless.
The facilitator pointed out that all parties were relentless in trying to convey their points. She suggested that everyone calm down. She urged the parents to back off and not obsess over everything. She also urged TJ to work on being true to his word.
By the end of the meeting, everyone agreed to work harder and handle things differently. TJ was going to really work on honesty and being tenacious in that area. TJ's parents were going to step back and try not to smother him day in and day out with comments, directives and negative opinions. They were even going to lighten up on the curfew if his honesty became more consistent.
Rome was not built in a day, but it is a huge, positive step!

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