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Tips for Families & Supporters from a Student who Lived at Home During First-Year

By Mikayla Sebesta, ArtSci’19

Tip #1: Be there for your student during their academic transition and let them know they are not alone in their feelings. Listen to their feelings, and remind them that there are services at Queen’s to assist them

Academic expectations can be a jump

I was taking an extremely reduced course load at the end of grade twelve, and going from two courses a semester to five was a large jump for me! I can see this potentially being similar for members of the incoming class who finished high school remotely. It was an adjustment period at first, figuring out how much time I had to designate for each course and learning to schedule my own work time (making sure I completed the readings before class). My mom saw that I was stressed and was there to comfort me, support me, and let me know that this was a normal experience to feel a bit overwhelmed. She also attended SOAR so she knew of the resources like SASS that could assist me. It meant everything to me to have this support, and really helped during my academic transition!

Tip #2: Your students may have to take the initiative to make friends and connections, but it is worth it! Support them and validate their experience.

It can be isolating

Living at home in Kingston in first year was a choice that I got to make in 2015, I know many students do not have a choice this year. Because I chose to live at home I knew I had to work ‘extra hard’ to make friends and build connections because I did not have a residence floor that I was automatically connected to. I chose to break out of my shell and talk to my peers in class, and join organizations / clubs to meet those with similar interests. One of the benefits in my eyes this year is that a lot of students who do not live in residence will feel the same way, and there are a lot of resources put in place to connect students to each other online.

Tip #3: Talk to your students about consent, safer sex and substances. Please do not assume that it will not happen this year, or in years to come

Fear of missing out

This was a big one for me - I had a huge fear of missing out – you hear that university is a place for finding yourself, for parties, for experimentation – but how was I going to do that while living in my childhood home?

My mom is a nurse and was very open about sex and discussing things like consent, and safe sex with me in my adolescence – I felt like I was prepared and educated to make smart choices about sexual relationships. I turned 19 the summer before first year and thought that I would have to attend parties and drink in order to make friends. This was not the case. My parents never drink, so they never had a conversation with me about the safe consumption of substances. I wish they would have had this conversation with me. Also, what cannot be done in person is certainly made up for online in this new digital world. For example, virtual sex is a real thing and consent and safety are just as important as physical in person sex; binge drinking can be done via Skype or Zoom. Even though students are not on campus, it is still important to discuss these things.

Tip #4: Set expectations early on with your student about what is expected of them, be flexible and understanding as they adapt to a new period of life.

Familial expectations still apply

By living at home in Kingston during first year I saved a lot money on residence fees, dining plan, etc. and I found myself very busy with classes, wanting to get together with friends, studying and extra-curriculars – and with this my contributions to the household (emptying the dishwasher, vacuuming, etc.) began to slack. My mom was understanding as I adapted to the new university life but also informed me that because I was still living in the family home that I had to contribute. So, my ‘chores’ were modified based on what was appropriate for me to do (I am NOT a chef so making food for my family was off the table) and adapted so I could fit them into my schedule, and I in turn made sure that I did not book anything around them (I couldn’t stay out too late on Thursday nights because I had to do the garbage and recycling).

Tip #5: Talk to your student about what their independence will look like as they enter university (potentially from home). 

Wanting independence

If I had chosen (or had the ability to) to live in residence I would have had a lot of independence over the choices I could make – for example how late I stayed out at night. At first my mom still wanted me to have a curfew, and this was really difficult for me because I knew if I was living on campus she would not have this control. We had a frank discussion that involved me expressing my feelings and she agreed to drop the curfew as long as I was respectful (not being loud when I returned home, and let her know where I was anticipating on going).