“She told me she had moved off-campus to family friends of ours and then begged me to let her come home,” said Pelaez-Kingery, a health care worker who lives in Lake City, Texas. “Because of my job and her dad’s — he’s a critical care nurse — she knew there was no way she could come home if she was exposed to Covid-19 or tested positive.”
Unfortunately, college kids can’t control their roommates, and others don’t always listen to their parents. That may be why college campuses are currently considered one of the largest Covid-19 hotspots in the United States.
“We know that some college kids think, I’m too young to get this, or even if I do get it, I’ll be immune, but this situation is hard on parents,” Harrington said.
And, while some schools are doing a better job than others at testing and contact tracing, most universities have made the consequences of defying the rules quite clear — and this goes beyond parents driving to campus and making their kid clean out their dorm room before returning home to quarantine in his or her bedroom.
“If our daughter defies the rules, she’ll face the consequences her university has already outlined,” he said. “We told our daughter that if she gets sent home, she’s putting a cool time in her life at risk. We told her it’s in her best interest to be vigilant and make sure she doesn’t get exposed.”
Beyond concerns about their kids’ safety, parents are also worried about the financial consequences of bad behavior.
“College kids aren’t going to get a slap on the wrist if they defy the rules,” Harrington said. “They could risk suspension or expulsion, and parents could risk serious financial consequences. As we saw last spring when the pandemic began, there’s no guarantee you will get your money back.”
Some parents are hoping that being transparent about college costs, which average $41,426 at private institutions nationwide, will motivate their kids to stay away from potential superspreader gatherings on campus — or off.
“Many parents are coming right out and saying ‘I’m not paying for you to go to college and be reckless and cause our family this expense,'” Harrington said.
“We told her that if we’re paying for room and board and full tuition out of state, we won’t get our money back if she’s sent home,” Lavery said. “She knows that if school closes, we’re not going to pay for her to learn online at Purdue, especially when we have an excellent community college in our town.”
“Our daughter knows that we’re doing everything we can to get her and her brother through college with as little debt as possible,” Leonard said.
Leonard, who was recently diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and her husband, who is disabled, know they’ve put their own health at risk sending her back to campus. But Leonard said her daughter knows what’s at stake.
“She knows that if she breaks the rules it will very likely be the end of her education in that program,” Leonard said.
“If, God forbid, she gets Covid-19 and it damages her lungs, her career will be over before she even had a chance to take her shot because singing and acting in eight shows a week, a la Nick Cordero’s tragic story, just can’t be done with bum lungs or a bad heart.”
Staying connected seems to make a big difference
To help their kids navigate this difficult school year, many parents have made a choice to focus on sending positive rather than punitive messages in the hopes that their kids will make smart choices — even when they’re tempted to go to a kegger or run around campus maskless.
“We text about her workload and she sometimes FaceTimes me on the way to class,” Sheradin said. “She’s the type of daughter who likes sharing that she tried a new creamer in her coffee.”
“But the way we say goodbye has definitely changed. Instead of ‘Goodbye, love you,’ it’s now ‘Mask up.'”
Lambeth Hochwald is a New York City-based writer and professor of journalism at New York University who focuses on issues related to health, family and issues of importance to women.