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Brady Butler, Director
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Pittsburgh, June 22, 2009 – The summer months traditionally mean “down time” for students of all ages. There is no school, no routine, no structure and, it seems, no rules. This “freedom” that develops often creates tension between the student and the parents, especially during the college years. That tension may come while a child prepares to leave home for the first time, and it also appears when the first summer home after college takes place.

It may be difficult for parents to understand the new habits and actions that are developing or have developed, according to Janet Gates, Ph.D., a psychology professor at La Roche College. The good news for parents, though, is that most of these actions are healthy and normal, Dr. Gates said.

During the summer before a teen heads off to college, parents may notice the tension with the teen growing stronger. The teen may say things like “I can’t wait to get out of here.” Dr. Gates said this is a phenomenon called ‘autonomy strivings,’ in which the teen thinks that being mad at his or her parents will make it easier to leave.

“To help ease this anxiety, parents should encourage the student to take actions that will make the transition easier,” she said. “Calm his fears about what he can expect at college. Encourage her to get in contact with her roommate, which may ease some anxiety.”

Another common issue that parents and college students experience happens once the child comes back home after that first year away. Although a child may be thrilled to be back home, he probably has developed a sense of independence and thinks his parents’ rules no longer apply. Dr. Gates said children often want to set their own hours and do what they want, yet they will still want mom to wash their laundry.

“As the parent, you really have to think about what rules are important to you,” Dr. Gates said. “Enforce the ones that matter. Be flexible in some other areas. Parents and children really need to compromise. That means learning to give a little – on both sides.”

Problems also may arise during summertime for children of all ages because of the lack of routine that was there during the school year. For example, teens are likely to sleep late into the day and go to bed late at night – something called “delayed phase sequence.” It can drive parents crazy, Dr. Gates said, and suggested that a summer job often can help regulate the teen’s sleeping schedule and keep mom and dad happy, too.

Keeping a routine may also mean keeping the schoolwork going during the summer. If parents stress too much that their children need “a break from school” over the summer, it may give the children the impression that learning is “painful or negative.” Dr. Gates suggests that parents encourage reading and physical activity – anything to stimulate the mind.

“Parents should encourage their children to get as involved in physical activity as they can,” she said. “Even going to a baseball game can be stimulating.”

Above all, communication between the child and the parent is essential at every stage of development. "Communicating throughout the child’s upbringing will aid in smooth transitions throughout the child’s life," Gates said.

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