Sometimes coming home from college is more difficult than it seems.
As Vicki Nelson was cozying in with her favorite read and preparing for bed, the rest of her household was just coming to life. For the founder of College Parent Central and mother of three, this was a familiar phenomenon. Her daughters were home.
Every winter, spring and summer, college students around the country return to the nest to escape the stress of campus life. But, oftentimes what awaits them at home is far more taxing than any problem set or essay could ever be.
“Working with parents, I hear the same stories over and over of not knowing what to do with the student when they come home and with a completely different cycle than the family routine,” says Nelson.
“The students have changed in one direction, the family in another, and now you’re trying to match two very different things that may not realize how very different each other is.”
The simple: The impending (and perhaps inevitable) conflict
When college students return home, whether transiently for vacation or a prolonged period of time post-graduation, the transition is often difficult. The novelty of the situation quickly wears off as offers for another helping gives way to questions about gaining the infamous Freshman 15. Often a perplexing situation for parents and students, the tension is in fact symptomatic of a more profound underlying phenomenon.
“When college students go away, they make that switch as a student of who they are in the context of their family and their community into who they are in this new place,” says Karen Coburn, senior consultant at Washington University in St. Louis and co-author of Letting Go.
“The challenge for students is to be able to hold on to that identity when they come back within the fold in the family because, on a deeper level, that’s what it’s all about.”
The science: A view from modern psychology
Jeffrey Arnett, co-author of When Will My Grown-Up Kid Grow Up? and research professor of psychology at Clark University, argues that the question surrounding readjustment to home life has become especially prominent within the past decade. In fact, he has coined an entirely new term that defines this new period of conflict.
“I have developed this idea that there really is this new life stage called ‘emerging adulthood,’” says Arnett. “This is the time that you’re figuring out who you are and what you are going to do. Returning home in the midst of this journey can be jarring.”
He explains how a host of factors including a transition to an information economy, a heightened demand for college-educated workers, the feminist movement and the evolution of sexual life with the pill contribute to the advent of the emerging adult.
Ellen Langer, professor of psychology at Harvard University, evaluates this from an entirely different angle. Her 40 years of research indicates the pervasiveness of the mindless individual.
“Most people much of the time are mindless, so they’re not there,” says Langer. “They don’t know they’re not there because they’re not there to know it.”
This complex psychological theory argues that routine actions are automatic, and thus the individual doesn’t perceive the changes in themselves over time. Upon returning home, the student becomes mindful, thus leading to conflict.
“There are all of these mindless responses we engage in while we are home before we went off to school,” says Langer. “When we come back, we have all the triggers for these responses so that the things that affected us before tend to affect us again but differently, leading to tension.”
The solution: Attempting to reconcile differences
Clearly, the question is no longer if conflict arises but rather when. How can individuals best respond?
“Students can go a long way by reassuring, explaining and sharing something of themselves,” says Coburn.
And it seems that the period of tension doesn’t last forever. If all else fails, remember that conflict rarely passes the test of time.
“When I was a young Ellen, my mother called and told me to put on flannel pajamas,” says Langer. “And I was amused by it because I was no longer struggling to prove I was all grown up. What was once annoying became endearing.”
Powered by Facebook Comments