Each generation has its own distinct personality and challenges, and the millennials are no exception. Millennials were the last set of babies born during the 20th century, and they are a much larger and more diverse group than baby boomers. As this generation settles into the new economic realities of adulthood, many are returning home after college to live with their parents while they pursue their careers and transition into independent adulthood.
In part, this trend is influenced by the challenging job market and stingy economy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of young adults living at home, or “boomerang kids,” is at an all-time record high. Many experts agree the economy, including rising debt from student loans and the high cost of living, is the driving force motivating these kids to live at home. But another interesting explanation is the generational mindset shift happening as well, as there is now less of a stigma for young adults to live at home with their parents.
As a psychotherapist, I’m fascinated by cultural shifts in what we consider acceptable and how those beliefs influence our behavior and mental health. The boomerang kid phenomenon is particularly interesting because it is changing how we as a society view homeownership. In the past, recent college graduates accepting their first job has been a lifestyle trigger for a home purchase. Looking at it from a parent’s perspective, having children transition into independent adulthood, in the past, has triggered many empty-nester parents to consider downsizing to a home that fits their needs.
To better understand what this trend means, I partnered with Coldwell Banker Real Estate to find out how Americans feel about college graduates living at home with their parents. We surveyed more than 2,000 adults and found that Americans disagree over how long is too long for college graduates to live with their parents. Millennials age 18-34 think it’s acceptable to live at home with their parents for as long as five years after college. Older Americans (defined as age 55 and older for the purpose of the survey) disagree, believing these young adults, if they do move back home after school, should move out within three years of graduating.
Two Extremes of Boomerang Kids
Just as the millennials are a diverse group, so are the types of boomerang kids who return home to live with mom and dad. There are the kids who boomerang home to live with a purpose and those who return home to become “perma-children.”
“Perma-children” tend to feel like they are living in a state of limbo. Although there is an increasing acceptance to return home to live with parents, these young adults use this time to regress to an earlier stage of development. They fall into old patterns, using the money they earn as disposable income, spending on expensive clothes, cars, dinners and vacations. They have their parents make them dinner and do their laundry, permanently securing their ambivalent status as not-quite-adult yet.
The other group of boomerangers finds a way to use this time to successfully transition from emerging adult to full-fledged adulthood. The kids who live at home with a purpose have a clear goal in mind. They focus on saving money for graduate school or to buy their own homes once they leave the nest. They have a set time period for how long they plan to live at home with their parents, and there is a definite exit strategy set in place. They use this time to help them segue into independent living because this is their ultimate goal.
The Importance of Our 20s
Our 20s are a very important time of life, contrary to the way they’ve been described and sometimes trivialized in the media. According to the leading developmental psychologists of today, these are not throwaway years which are irrelevant. Instead, this time only comes around once, when the choices made and not made will have an enormous impact on both current and future life opportunities.
The Parents’ Role
The parents of these boomerang kids know this is a crucial time for their children as well, and their reactions to this phase can be just as diverse as those of their children. In fact, our study found that parents as a whole feel it is okay for young adults to live at home with their mom and dad for as long as five years after college – same as the millennials – while older parents (age 55 and older) believe young adults should move out of their parents’ home within four years of finishing college.
Because it seems like it’s taking everyone a bit longer to grow up, this could lead to many parents enjoying having their kids back home again. Parents can fall into a “perma-parenting” routine through helicopter parenting rituals such as mildly indulging their children, while subconsciously preferring having a child home again who needs and depends on them. It’s a way for some parents to temporarily sidestep the empty nest syndrome and deal with the post-active child rearing future they ultimately need to embrace. There is also the group of parents who understand it needs to be a temporary situation. They know the natural progression of events is to help their children move forward in life, which eventually means moving them out.
The ultimate job of a parent is to help their kids live life successfully and independently. It’s also important for these same parents to figure out how to transition into the next healthy phase of their own lives. More than half of Americans, according to the Coldwell Banker study, believe that when children return home after graduating college, it also prevents parents from moving on with their own lives. For parents to help both themselves and their boomerang kids make the most of this time at home, some non-negotiable rules need to be firmly put into place.
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1) Agree upon a reasonable rent payment – 82 percent of Americans agree adult children who live at home with their parents should pay rent. Too many parents fall into the trap of allowing their adult children to live at home without responsibilities or obligations.
2) Use this opportunity to save money – 80 percent of Americans feel it’s okay for adult children to live at home if they are saving money to buy their own home.
3) Contribute to household chores and errands – 92 percent of Americans agree adult children who live at home with their parents should do their own chores.
4) Focus on finding a job, even if it’s for the interim – If contemplating returning to school or looking for work, young adults should take advantage of the time by actively seeking employment opportunities.
5) Parents, understand the importance of helping your child become independent – Don’t derail plans for your future or make fiscal trade-offs which can be detrimental to your own solid financial outlook. Set an end date for this arrangement. Sixty-five percent of Americans agree that adult children who live with their parents should move out as soon as they find a job.
In the end, the decision to move back home, or allow a child to do so, is complex and extremely personal. One thing that’s for sure is that the time spent living at home should help both the child and parents develop and thrive to their fullest capabilities.