Families across the country are eagerly anticipating the return home of college students after a semester like no other. Colleges and universities, including Clark, instituted a host of new protocols and restrictions in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on their campuses.
And now, Clark students are heading home — a few days earlier than expected — to complete the fall semester online and spend the holiday season with their families. Should parents set ground rules on socializing to keep COVID-19 out of their homes? A recent article in The New York Times provided advice on how to “Prepare for Your College Student’s Return for the Holidays.”
Carefully plan the trip home
It’s too late to have students quarantine prior to leaving campus, but it’s recommended that they take advantage of testing on campus before going home — and then get another test a week after arriving.
The Times also recommends traveling home via private transportation, if possible. “Once at home,” Dr. Anita Barkin, one of the co-chairs of the American College Health Association’s COVID-19 Task Force told The Times, “the most cautious recommendation would be to stay physically distant for the first 14 days from other household members, wear a mask, no kissing or hugging, wipe surfaces down and use separate eating utensils.”
Understand their emotional state
While many students have adjusted to “the new normal,” families should try to understand that restrictions and lockdowns may have significantly impacted their student’s well-being, according to The Times story. College seniors have missed out on internships and on-campus recruiting, first-year students have had limited opportunities to make friends, and many athletes and artists have been unable to play and perform. Students with a history of depression or anxiety may find themselves especially challenged by the pandemic.
A survey of 144 colleges conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors this fall reported a 57-percent increase in anxiety among students and an 81-percent increase in loneliness, compared to the first four weeks of fall 2019, The Times reported. Families may need to give their returning students time to “recuperate, hibernate, and rest — and not take it personally.”
Get ready to negotiate
Students may expect to be able to hang out with high school friends — but families should discuss rules around socializing. These conversations must allow students to share their opinions, and parents should leave room for negotiation.
“If your child’s friends come inside your home, for example, you can ask them to wear a mask and keep a safe distance,” The Times article recommends. “But spending time with friends outdoors with masks while maintaining physical distance remains the safest plan. Firepits and controlled outdoor gatherings will go a long way.”
Cut your student some slack
Dr. Benjamin Shain, the head of child and adolescent psychiatry at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Chicago, told The Times, “Parents and children can set each other off, resulting in huge arguments. If parents can recognize that the argument may be connected to the kid who has to come home and stay because of COVID, maybe they can give the kid a break with picking up clothes, not doing the dishes and using a softer tone of voice.”
Dr. Shain also recommended that parents and students spend time together outdoors to reduce stress and give students a chance to share their fall experience. Parents can ask questions but should refrain from giving advice, he added — “mostly stay quiet and let your kid vent.”