Why You Should Let your College Student Get Burned this Summer


As the first day of summer rolls in, parents and college students or first-time college-bound students are apt to have very different ideas of how these few languid months will be spent. College students, whether they are 18, or returning to live at home for a few months, often face a barrage of questions and expectations that clash with their new found independence. “You need a summer job or at the very least, an internship. Who are you seeing tonight? Your curfew is still X. Aren’t you going to hang out with _______ anymore like you used to? I mean, you’ve been friends since 5th grade.”

These kinds of questions often evoke the “fight or flight” response in young adults. They become immediately defensive, angry, and sometimes regress to the petulant toddler who can’t get their way. Parents recoil in surprise and wonder what happened to their perfect kid whose artwork still adorns the walls of the house and the refrigerator.

As parenting experts, “Millennial Translators,” and parents of 5 Millennials who navigated the transition during summer break, we offer 5 secrets for parents to get through the summer without getting burned.

For example, one secret is to have a family meeting. Allow each family member to speak and express their opinions and desires. Your Millennial, even as a high school graduate, is ready to bolt. Consider and reconsider the constraints you want to impose. Are the expectations reasonable? Are you projecting your own fear and angst on your kid? Are you ill-equipped in the art of letting go? If yes, to any of these, you may be out of touch. And no college student wants to be around a parent who is out of touch.

Another way parents can enjoy summer with their teen is to create opportunities to ”practice freedom.” Give your teen some rope to venture out on his/her own AFTER you have discussed 3 or 4 acceptable options from which they can choose. For instance, your son wants to go with some buddies to a weekend concert out of town. Resist the knee jerk response to say “no,” because you cannot control his freewheeling behavior. Instead, pause and listen to his request. Perhaps he performs one of his responsibilities first. You prepare a list of commitments you expect from him prior to his departure. He signs a contract. If he has a job, internship, or volunteer commitment, he needs to schedule appropriately.

Many brains of Millennials work at warp speed. That alone contrasts heavily with their parents. With their desired freedom comes flexibility and novelty. They like their life experiences to be quick, exciting, loose, and fresh.

Lastly, embrace failure. We suggest that you use the summer months as practice time to make decisions, pause to consider options, while still providing a loving safety net at home. Allowing failure can be one of the most loving things (albeit counterintuitive) you can give to your college student this summer. Doesn’t it make sense to have them try things at home, under your roof, so if they fail, (which we hope they do,) you are there to mentor them as they work through that experience?

Consider letting them burn at home this summer, so you can be there with first aid.​

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Poppy and Geoff Spencer