These are incredibly uncertain times we are living through. No one knows if a second wave of COVID-19 is coming or if a vaccine will be found soon. Talk is of Covid and nothing else. But we have to talk about our kids returning to school and University.
If this is a situation you find yourself in, don’t panic and read on. There may be a few reasons behind the refusal. These are my suggestions to get back on track.
1. Is university going to reopen?
2. Is the refusal because of the risk from COVID-19?
3. They are adults!
4. The effects on a household
5. New Normal
It’s all very up in the air. I have a daughter in college - going into her Sophomore year and a son in high school, to be a junior, lower 6th. What way the next school year will pan out is currently quite unclear. The following is my thoughts on returning to school.
Is University going to reopen?
Every day I scour social media and the news for updates on college and High School return. Currently about 60% of colleges plan to return (July 2020) to an in person learning situation. The remainder are looking at either online or a blended version of both. About 9% are unsure at the moment. My daughter’s college has not yet stated whether she will be back on campus. I am clinging to the fact that she is a Bio Science major and has a lot of lab classes.
We have discussed it to some extent but what if there is a second wave?
What if it is not safe for her to return or ultimately she doesn’t want to return.
I don’t think this will be the case as she loves her course but for many parents that I have spoken to recently they are unsure whether their sons or daughters will return.
If your son/ daughters university is set to reopen, how can we be sure they are going to be safe? Most schools are introducing mandatory mask wearing, deep cleaning measures, social distancing, reduced occupancy and fever checks. But is this going to be enough?
There is a suggestion that younger people are less susceptible to COVID, but younger people are also more hands on. Is it fair to ask them to return to their insulated world of campus but you’re not allowed to socialise or group study, or return home for thanksgiving...
How many will refuse to return to an altered, less appealing college life. After all they are not just there to learn academically. They are learning how to ‘adult’, how to fit in, make new friends, try new things.
If this is no longer on offer how many will decide that college is no longer for them.
Is the refusal because of the risk?
If this has become a topic of conversation, and I’m no doubt sure in many households, it has, we need to ask why they are reluctant to return. It may be for quite a number of reasons including of course Covid.
So what could these reasons be. The most obvious reason is of course Covid. Everyone has anxiety about how infectious it is or that some seem to be affected more seriously than others, even without an underlying condition. I can understand any teens worry about returning to campus. If they get sick, are they going to be on their own? Is sharing a dorm going to make them more at risk?
And the truth is we simply don’t know. Normally as a parent we can draw on previous experience and advise on the best solution. But we are in a pandemic. Not something most of us have lived through ever.
We have spoken about it often in our home. We have suggested that if school reopens we need to adhere to health guidelines, to be even more clean than normal, (sometimes challenging with a teenage boy), to mix with a certain group of people.
This is not the time to make new friends or join new clubs.
But if either of my children feel they need to take time out and stay at home well then we are also cool with that.
Maybe the reason for the refusal is not Covid. Is it possibly they never wanted to go to college. This is the ideal opportunity to legitimately drop out, without any shame attached. If it is the case, why did they agree to go in the first place?
You may need to dig a little deeper. Have any other kids they went to high school with dropped out of college, or are considering doing so. Does your son/ daughter feel they are just going to hang with them? Is an ex boyfriend/ girlfriend also back home and a rekindling of love on the cards. These are not legitimate reasons for quitting school.
Generally teens don’t take advice from parents well. They think we have an agenda, or ulterior motive. Even when they know we a re probably right. There certainly is plenty of help available. It already has been flagged that young adults are struggling with the pandemic, that lack of connection with their friends. We know they live in a digital world but they also crave real life company.
Try and connect with counsellors on campus or student bodies that are there to help. It may just be that your son/ daughter needs some campus reassurance.
They are Adults!
If they are adamant they are not going back we can’t pressure them to go. Yes, of course it will be disappointing, they worked so hard to get there, but just because they have decided not to go back, doesn’t mean they never will. It takes courage to quit a nice comfortable campus life.
At the age of 18-19 we have to finally admit that they are adults. They have to be allowed to have opinions of their own. And if one of those strong opinions is not to return to college, we may well just have to go with that.
It is disappointing as a parent. You’ve worked hard to get them there. To support them financially and emotionally through school, for them to decide that’s it. It’s hard not to argue or be angry or disappointed with them. But that won’t help anyone. You can’t guilt them into school. If this is their decision then they need to act accordingly.
If quitting school is on the cards well then what is the plan? They can’t just vegetate in their room, watching TV or gaming. Life is still happening and we need to impress the importance of this on them, which leads nicely to my next topic....
Effects on a household
If your child has decided to postpone going back to school or quit altogether that has an impact on a household. They can’t decide they are suddenly on vacation. They need to actively start looking for another course choice and also in the meantime they need to find a job.
I often think there’s nothing better than focussing a kid on their education than working a minimum wage job.
Our daughter waited tables for a while, and spent most of that time being roared at by management and chefs. She wasn’t doing anything wrong, it was the nature of the restaurant she was working at. She now has a part time job in a grocery store. It’s marginally better, no shouting, but it drives her on with her studies to know it’s not her forever job.
If there are other siblings in the house, still attending high school you don’t want them to get the idea that going to college is a ‘suck and see’. They might be looking at their brother or sister and thinking well if I don’t like it, I’ll just quit.
No one can start college with that mindset. You have to want to go. Be committed.
So having a child return from college can have quite a profound effect on an entire household.
Ground rules need to be put in place from the get go. If they are quitting because of COVID try and organise with their college that they defer for a year. Things may seem differently fall twelve months. If they are quitting because they hate it, then they need to actively find an alternative.
It’s important they know they need to contribute to the household. Not just financially but with chores. A house doesn’t run itself. They need to pull their weight. We have certain jobs like most households, that my son and daughter must do. Changing bed linen, emptying the dishwasher, bringing laundry to the utility room. Even when my daughter comes home from college to visit, she knows these chores have to be done. She’s probably better now at doing them, cos she has lived away from home.
But if your teen is permanently home, they need to be involved in the running of the house. They are not ‘living in a hotel’ as my mom used to say.
Apart from jobs and financial contribution, their return may have other effects on the household. It really depends on who is living in the house. If it’s just parents, you may have gotten used to it just being you. As you waved your teen off to college last fall, you may have a new routine. Dinner out on a Tuesday, socialising a couple of days a week. Now that is disrupted. It’s hard not to feel resentment that once again your time is being shared.
Of course, it’s fantastic to have your child home, but for how long? If there is no plan in place, it could be for quite some time.
Is this the new normal?
We have to ask ourselves what does the future look like for all these kids finishing high school or already in college. Online or blended learning may become the norm. Who knows when a vaccine will be available. We can’t just put a whole generation of teens’ education on hold.
On one hand I feel just do as we always have been doing, and then you see the destruction of the virus, everywhere, worldwide. And then I fear for my son in high school and my daughter away at college. All it takes is one carrier and a whole class could be infected. But we could have this virus in our community for years to come.
I fear that dropping out of college will become the norm. I hope that won’t be the case. That whatever our ‘New Normal’ becomes it will still include high levels of education for our children. They are at a vulnerable stage of their lives. Huge decisions to be made even without a pandemic to contend with.
Now more than ever they need our support and guidance.
For most teens, parents are who they look to, to guide them. It’s hard to tell them everything will be ok. We don’t know what our new normal will be. Being positive is always the best place to start. With your help they will find the best path for them. You’ve guided them this far, have faith in your parenting skills.
We will get through this.
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Tara Cunningham is a Mum and Graphic Designer. My children's education has always been very important to me. I feel that if you are willing to put in the time they will appreciate the effort.
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