Home & Leisure

Social Graces: Here's what to do if your college student wants to visit home during the pandemic

By Hannah Herrera Greenspan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Q: Should parents let their children who are away at college come home for a visit during the pandemic?

A: For all students returning from school, we suggest they quarantine for 14 days when they arrive home.

And if there are any symptoms like a fever or a cough, seek medical management or call your family practice doctor to get a test for COVID-19. We even recommend that those individuals who test negative at college still quarantine when they return home because there is going to be some time lapse following the test results.

We've had parents call and say: My child had a negative COVID test this morning; are they free to come home and then drive to someone's home for a wedding or a gathering? And the answer is no, because it's just a matter of being cautious because of the simple fact that young adults are more likely to visit family members who have preexisting medical conditions.

When you're in college, the incidence of other classmates having underlying conditions is lower. However, when you come home from college and you're visiting relatives, that's where the transmission of the virus can have a greater impact on that population of individuals than 19- or 20-year-old college students.

And if they come home, they need to stay at home. Not come home and go to bars downtown with friends from other colleges who are now home.

We want to err on the side of caution and be an advocate for health, and ensure that other individuals in your family do not succumb because of exposure from an asymptomatic 19-year-old.

- Dr. Christopher Colbert, assistant emergency medicine residency director and professor of clinical emergency medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago


A: I think the most important part is to have really clear communication between the parent and the child in that situation. It's vital to be able to know your own personal boundaries, and oftentimes within families, those things can get messy and complicated. But I think it's important.

Before entering into that conversation, know what you're comfortable with, and use "I" statements because it's a really easy way to be clear about your expectations.

If parents do not want the child to come back because they want to be really cautious, they can have the conversation with the child saying: I love you. I wish I could see you. And because you're able to have this experience at college, and you're out and having more exposure than we're used to, I want to be really clear about my expectations for when you do come back for a longer visit. Let's have these precautions set in place, so that I would be able to actually enjoy and focus on our time together rather than be worried.

If the child wants to come home, but the parent doesn't feel comfortable with that, that's not necessarily a statement about their relationship or whether or not the child feels loved. It's more about respecting boundaries and respecting what people need to feel safe.

Be proactive with these conversations, and have a plan in place. This will reduce anxiety because everyone will be on the same page and expectations are made clear without the added level of stress. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's to be resilient.

- Maryjane Reilly, licensed professional counselor at Clarity Clinic

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