When your college student first leaves for college you may be anxious to have her come home again for a visit. You want to be able to touch bases in person, cook her favorite meal, reassure yourself that she is fine, and find out how things are going for her. If your student attends college reasonably close to home, weekend visits home may be an option. Can they be a bad thing?
Getting home to visit family, catch up on sleep, get a few home-cooked meals, and even get some laundry done is not a bad thing. Occasionally, it may be just what your student needs. If your student is feeling serious homesickness, she may need to reconnect with family and recharge. However, there are some things you should consider before encouraging your college student to spend many weekends at home.
Unhappiness in the first weeks may be normal
First of all, both you and your college student should realize that a certain degree of homesickness, or general unhappiness at college, is normal in the first few weeks. Many students have more difficulty adjusting than they had anticipated. You may receive the dreaded phone call from your student saying that he is miserable. You need to remember, and you need to reassure him, that the reaction is normal and that, for most students, it will pass. Coming home may not be the best antidote. (We’ve written an earlier post with some suggestions for handling that “meltdown phone call”.)
Why does she want to come home?
So why might this student, who couldn’t wait to leave home to get to college, suddenly want to come home again? Obviously, the transition to college is a big one. Students arrive on campus and their lives change dramatically. They may find that the independence and autonomy that they want so much is hard work. Once the novelty of the experience wears off, they may want a break from being in charge of their lives. They may want someone else to take care of them for a bit. They may be exhausted and just need to recharge their battery. They may need to reassure themselves that family and home haven’t changed and are still there for them.
All of these reasons for wanting to come home for a visit are valid, and a weekend at home may be just the thing for your student. But try to encourage your student to make this an exception rather than a regular routine.
Why should I encourage my student to stay on campus on the weekends?
Weekends on campus may seem like “down time” to many students, but “down time” is important for everyone. There may be fewer students on campus because many students may go home. Weekends are times when your student can connect with other students outside of the classroom. They may attend on-campus or off-campus events. They may just spend time getting to know each other. Clubs or organizations may hold activities. Students who are engaged at college are better students – and weekends are an important time for feeling engaged and part of the college community. Students who remain on campus on the weekends are often more involved in their new community.
What can parents do?
Here are some things to think about if your student is asking to come home for the weekend.
- If you find yourself encouraging your student to come home for weekends, take a moment to think about whether you want him to come home for him or for you. Does your student need to see you, or do you need to see him?
- Try to stall for a bit. Ask your student to wait a few weeks before visiting home. Encourage her to give herself some time to start to feel more connected at school.
- Encourage your student to get out of his room on weekends and do things with other students.
- Encourage your student to use some weekend time to get studying done so he will have more free time during the week.
- Remind her that you may be visiting campus in a few weeks for Family or Parents Weekend. Make specific plans for what you will do together.
- If possible, suggest that you make a visit to campus rather than having your student come home. You can connect and spend time together in his new environment. Do something on campus. Go shopping. Take him out to dinner.
- Make use of alternate ways of keeping in touch on weekends – phone calls, skype or videoconferencing.
- Discuss the costs of frequent trips home and consider whether it makes financial sense to come home often.
Students may need to come home for the weekend occasionally. It is a good thing. But students who want to come home every weekend may need to reconsider what they are forfeiting by leaving campus. As a parent, of course you don’t want to tell your student that you don’t want her home, but do what you can to encourage her to stay on campus and get involved. Her adjustment to college will happen more quickly and she may be more satisfied with her experience in the long run.