Archive for Monday, September 26, 2011

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Double Take: College students living at home need to sign a contract

September 26, 2011

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Dear Dr. Wes & Miranda: Would you give our family tips on having young college students still living at home? We don’t seem to be off to a very good start this fall on how to manage rules and responsibilities.

Wes: We’ll make this week’s column the second in our series on family finance in a deteriorating economy, as that’s exactly why we’re seeing the trend you’re describing. Not only are more late teens staying at home after high school to reduce expenses, but many college grads are moving back for the same reason. Because American society shifted away from this model in the 1940s and ’50s, we have little leftover experience to draw upon.

The desired lifestyle of modern young adults runs about 90 degrees perpendicular to that of their parents, which creates potential for daily conflict. It’s hard enough for young adults to manage boundaries and responsibilities with roommates or live-in dating partners. It’s even more challenging when your roommate is your mom and you’re fresh out of adolescence with its many parent-child conflicts.

My best advice for families at this juncture is to make a kind but explicit policy that after high school graduation, living at home is a privilege. While we generally agree on what is acceptable for teens, there is little consensus about young adults, which means each family gets to set up a reasonable roommate agreement based on their particular situation. To do this, everyone needs to sit down, agree on a contract and be ready to follow-through with eviction if the conditions aren’t met. Young adults should hold a job or have student aid to cover a small part of their expenses. For those not in school, the work expectation and financial contribution should be higher. Parents should also consider charging a small rent based on their child’s income, then save those funds to help him or her attain an apartment later on.

Miranda: As the economic downturn continues, fewer students are choosing to pack up their belongings and head off to different parts of the country for college. More are living at home to attend nearby universities. This isn’t a bad option, considering tuition is rising and prospects of getting a job have dimmed. It’s become less important to pay for “the college experience” and more important to leave school with a good education. However, living at home presents its challenges.

While mom’s home-cooked meals and a lack of crazy roommates seem appealing, living at home can restrict college social life. In setting the boundaries parents need to remember that once they hit 18, children become young adults, and many rules must be relaxed if they have any chance of working.

On the flip side, students need to remember that their childhood home isn’t suddenly transforming into a dorm. You may be able to stay up all night blaring music and go to a class at noon, but your parents will still have to get up at 7 a.m. and go to work. Being considerate toward parents and younger siblings will make the transition from dependent child to semi-independent young adult go more smoothly.

In addition to Wes’ list, here are some key issues to get the conversation started:

Laundry: Who will take care of the student’s dirty laundry?

Meals: Will the student eat with the family? Who will cook when it is “after hours,” or when parents aren’t cooking a meal?

Curfew: Will you have one? Will there be an expectation of quiet hours?

Special visitors: This is a big one. What kind of visitors (especially potential dating partners) will be allowed, and can they stay the night?

If you start the conversation early, these pitfalls can be avoided and an equally wonderful college experience can be had.

Next week: The HPV shot: Controversy or dumb politics?

— Dr. Wes Crenshaw is board certified in family and couples psychology (ABPP). Read about his writing and clinical practice at www.dr-wes.com. Miranda Davis is a Free State High School senior. Send your 200-word confidential question about adolescence and parenting to ask@dr-wes.com.

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