When your college student first leaves for college you may be anxious to have them come home again for a visit. You want to be able to touch bases in person, cook their favorite meal, reassure yourself that they are fine, and find out how things are going. 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, they 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 they are miserable. You need to remember, and you need to reassure them, 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 your student 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 them 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 do go home. Weekends are times when your student can connect with others 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 them to come home for them or for you. Be honest. Does your student need to see you, or do you need to see your student?
- Try to stall for a bit. Ask your student to wait a few weeks before visiting home. Encourage them to give it some time to start to feel more connected at school.
- Encourage your student to get out of their room on weekends and do things with others.
- Encourage your student to use some weekend time to get studying done so they will have more free time during the week.
- Remind your student 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 their new environment. Do something on campus. Go shopping. Take them out to dinner.
- Make use of alternate ways of keeping in touch on weekends – phone calls, Skype or Facetime.
- 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 them home, but do what you can to encourage them to stay on campus and get involved. Your student’s adjustment to college will happen more quickly and they may be more satisfied with their experience in the long run.