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Consumer Reports

Parents issue summer brakes on children home from college | (KRT) Home from college for the summer, 19-year-old Lauren Austin left her family's house in Southampton to visit her boyfriend one morning.

At 1 a.m.

"No respectable girl walks out of the house at 1 in the morning to visit some guy," Arlene Austin, Lauren's mother, said later.

"But at school, we don't go out until midnight," said Lauren, who works two summer jobs - camp counselor and video-store clerk - and will be a sophomore at Pennsylvania State University.

"I don't care," Arlene said. "It's no good."

Today, Arlene considers it a victory of sorts that Lauren leaves the house at 11 p.m. and returns by 2 a.m.

Such are the adjustments that parents and their college-age children have to make when the kids are home for the summer.

College vacation can be a stressful time for families. Students used to newfound freedoms on campus must return home and once again abide by parental rules.

For bridling kids, reimposed curfews constrict like leg irons.

For confused parents, the odd hours and independent attitudes are difficult to accept.

"With my parents at home during summer, I use the phrase `Why not? I'm in college now' a lot," said Michael Nataro, 20, a Villanova University student from Charlotte, N.C.

"I say to my parents, `You can't control me during the year, so why now?' They say, `Yeah, good point, but it's our house and it's our rules.'

"I need to be more reasonable, but they need to recognize that I'm an adult."

That may not be so easy.

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To many parents, their returning children actually seem less adult than they would have thought.

"Parents expect the kid to be a more mature teenager than the one who left," said Matti Gershenfeld, a Temple University psychologist.

But then he or she is home whining about doing laundry or chores, expecting meals to magically appear as they do in the school cafeteria, and leaving dishes unwashed in the sink, Gershenfeld said.

"The child has become selfish, it seems," she said. "All he wants is money, and to be with his friends."

Meanwhile, the students believe that parental demands to clean up, or to get a summer job, are ridiculous, Gershenfeld said. "They feel like they're being treated like babies, and the house feels confining."

While relationships often improve as the student gets older, some problems may persist.

Alexis Paolantonio, 21, a Shippensburg University student whose family lives in Wayne, Pa., said she butts heads with her mother even as she prepares for her senior year.

"You just try to get away with as much as you can," she said. "Even after three years of college, you try to explain you've been OK for nine months at school without parents, and you come home, and they're still telling you what to do.

"It's `don't ask, don't tell' when you're at college. But at home, there's asking and telling."

Jacque Paolantonio said she was still trying to figure out how to deal with her daughter. "We are really learning about having someone who is 21," she said. "Alexis gets good grades, and we get along, but I will be the first to say that parents are the last to know."

Jacque's husband, Stephen, said that because Alexis is 21, there's little they can do when she stays out late. Sometimes, the Paolantonios find themselves in the odd position of dropping her off, then picking her up, at a bar where she likes to drink with her friends.

"I tell Alexis nothing good happens after midnight," Jacque said. "But she tells me, `Mom, a lot of things that are fun happen then.'"

Alexis' friend Krystin Fischer, 21, a Villanova student, said that for the first two years of college, she and her mother didn't get along during the summer. "For a while," she said, "it was so frustrating I ended up doing things behind her back, like saying you were one place, but really you were going to another with your boyfriend." Things are a lot better now that her mother has learned to unclench, Krystin said.

That's not easy for many parents.

The Jarvis family, Andrew and Liz, say they have made quite a few changes to accommodate their daughter, Judy, 18, who attends Vassar College.

"She really knows how to work me," said Liz, a curatorial consultant from Chestnut Hill. "I see her managing me, scheming to get to her end. It is a pleasure to have her back during the summer, but it is a huge adjustment."

The biggest was eliminating Judy's 11:30 p.m. high school curfew. The Jarvises acquiesced to Judy's argument that it made no sense to impose a curfew on a young woman who had survived without one.

"We expect that she'll just come home when she's ready to," said Andrew, an architect.

The only requirement is that Judy knock on her parents' bedroom door when she gets home at night, whatever the time.

"They don't always remember when I wake them," said Judy, who has worked at a camp and a farmers market this summer. "But it's good because they're surprisingly less strict. Now the routine is, I say where I'm going and who I'm going with. But I can be vague."

When Judy showed up this summer with a belly-button ring, the parents stayed quiet.

"It's her body," Andrew said.

"It's not as bad as a tattoo," Liz reasoned. "I'm pretty proud of us" for not freaking out.

Judy pays back her parents' tolerance by occasionally cooking dinner and baking pies.

Ultimately, psychologists say, the tensions at home during college summers will lessen as graduation nears. With the cold post-university world looming, kids tend to seek parental advice.

Michael Nataro, of Villanova, is seeing that change even now, before his junior year starts.

"When I was 18, I couldn't wait to get out of the house in the summer," he said. "Now, I talk to my mom and dad all the time for guidance."

Krystin Fischer agreed. "After a while, you realize your parents are important to you."

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© 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services