Sunday, May 24, 2020

House rules still apply to college students housebound because of coronavirus

It happened a bit earlier this year than planned. Typically, after the spring semester of college ends, thousands of students return home to spend the summer living in their parents' homes. For many, it's the home they grew up in. Often when they walk through their bedroom doors, while the space may have been converted for slightly different uses in their absence,  it's as if time stood still.

This year, however, the mass migration home took an unexpected turn. Rather than the end of May, carloads of college students and their belongings headed home in mid-March. Concerned over the spread of coronavirus, college campuses shuttered and a majority of students were sent home to complete their courses online.

When there's a re-entry into a parents' home after a college student has been away, there's often a clash between how the student was able to behave on campus and the house rules still in place. A child may have gained some independence while off at school, but the phrase, "our house, our rules" seems on constant rotation.

Typically, re-acclimating involves such banal tasks as picking up dirty clothes, not staying out past a particular hour, or not leaving dirty dishes or half-eaten sandwiches around the house. It can take a few days to sort things out and reach a clear understanding. A parent needs to assert that while they appreciate their child's independence and that their child is an adult, they still expect them to respect the house rules.

But this year adds a twist. Many communities have instituted advisories or directives about wearing face masks in public or while shopping as well as making sure to be at least six feet away from other individuals.

In the communities where the advisories are not binding and it's left up to the individual to comply, there can be a rift between people choosing not to wear face masks when running on a somewhat crowded path and those strictly adhering to the advisory. When such a difference of opinion occurs between a parent and a college student home while school is shut down, the student might remind the parent that he still follows the rules at home even if he chooses not to wear a mask in public.

"I'm not in the house when I do this," the student might say.

It's fair for the college student to choose how to behave in public as long as he is not breaking the law or putting someone else's life in danger. (The latter of these seems to depend on how close he gets to others if not wearing a mask.) But if the student risks exposing himself to the virus because of his behavior outside of the house, then he risks exposing his parents and other family members as well. If his parents are uncomfortable with this, their rules apply and the right thing is for their college student to comply with house rules and wear a mask in public even though technically he isn't inside their house when following the rule.

Life is short. There are plenty of things to argue over with parents. If this one is important to them, let it go. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.  

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 

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