As if leaving home for college weren’t hard enough, for some students, returning home for breaks and holidays can be just as difficult.
Omri Gillath, a research psychologist with a specialty in close relationships and attachment, says transitions and managing social networks vary not only from person to person, but also across age groups.
“Looking at how you manage your social network. Young adults seem to initiate more easily but have a harder time maintaining relationships,” says Gillath, also an assistant professor at Kansas University. “People can feel like they’ve grown apart or that the people back home don’t understand them anymore. Which sometimes could be fine, but if you’re struggling or on the verge of developing depression, cutting the old ties can be the last thing you want to do.”
Thus, a college freshman might hope to catch up with high school friends over holiday break, only to find they’ve changed so much themselves that there’s not as much in common now.
In one of Gillath’s recent studies, he and other researchers found that attachments both fulfill needs as well as affect people’s health and longevity.
On the street
No, I’m staying here in Lawrence for Thanksgiving, headed back to Minneapolis for Christmas.
“A flexible person can go between the new and old networks,” Gillath says. “The negative with that is that if you’re still transitioning, you’re torn between the old situation, but you’re still merging into the new one. You can feel alone. College students are already at risk of developing depression just because of their ages.”
Different personality types adjust in a variety of ways and times. For KU sophomore Stephanie Crawford, the changes to her family life and home are coupled with the process of moving into a different house.
“A lot has changed about my house physically,” Crawford says. “I even feel like our house smells different now, or maybe I just notice how it smelled before because I’m not there all the time. I guess it’s slowly transforming into a house that isn’t ours anymore.”
Families can help students adjust to coming back to the nest by using different ways to relate. According to Gillath, simply talking about coping can help the process along.
“I think that parents should be aware of the changes that are taking place, and the levels of stress that kids are going through,” Gillath says. “They should be involved somehow. Talk to kids about their social status, and how they are coping, not just about whether or not they are getting good grades.”
For Crawford, small family traditions have softened the changes, such as greater freedoms in her relationships at home.
“My family dynamics have changed quite a bit,” Crawford says. “I definitely feel more like an adult, doing things on my own and not asking for permission. Now, I tell my mom what I’m doing instead of asking if I can. I also feel like I’m better friends with my parents now that they are not always trying to control me.”
Students can find recourses on and off campus around the holiday season and for everyday use. Headquarters Counseling Center, a volunteer-run operation, provides a variety of services, from a 24-hour hot line to a database full of information to help students with any need .
“A lot of times people don’t need to start therapy,” says Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters. “They just need to talk. There’s no charge to talk to us. The people that started us were students, and we’re partially funded by Student Senate, so we’re a part of KU, but we’re here to help everybody.”
As the holidays approach , students have a variety of options for help.
“People don’t have to give us a lot of background information before they talk to us,” she says. “The main way that we help is by listening to what people have to say. For somebody else, something can be so important. We have to listen to that person to get a sense of how their experience is.”
For students preparing to make the trek back for break, Gillath suggests an open attitude for reconnecting.
“Be patient,” Gillath says. “Be prepared for the fact that you’ve moved on in a way, but people at home still have many good things to offer. You need to be able to share what’s going on with you.”