As families begin welcoming home their college students for the summer break, Duke University psychiatrist Doris Iarovici, M.D. reminds us that things will be different:

Life with a college student in the family is full of change, but folding your child back into the family for the long summer break can be a surprisingly challenging transition. Whether they come home for the entire summer, or for a few weeks before an internship or travel abroad experience, or whether the family and student vacation together, things likely will not be as they were.


Dr. Iarovici describes the sometimes exhilarating but always difficult transition these “emerging adults” go through as they discover who they are and where they belong in the world around them:

Your son or daughter has experienced significant residential changes, variability in friendships, romances, and other relationships, and new expectations regarding self-sufficiency. They’ve encountered worldviews that may drastically differ from the ones with which they were raised. They’ve made choices regarding how they structure their time, whether—and how—they are sexually active, whether and how much they use alcohol and other drugs, who their closest friends and most admired role models are, and what academic fields most interest them.  Whether they’ve had to use counseling services or not, every one of them has experienced difficult or even overwhelming times this past year, as well as moments of great joy and triumph.


Dr. Iarovici advises changing our parenting styles to accomodate the “in-between-ness” that defines this transition period:

[I]f we, as parents, treat them as we did when they were in high school, we’ll encounter major conflicts. One study of parenting styles and outcomes in emerging adults found that for both mothers and fathers, authoritative parenting—a combination of warmth/responsiveness, valuing autonomy, and clearly stated expectations—led to the best outcome: a healthy sense of self-worth in the child and a strong, positive parent-child relationship.