Boomerang Kids vs. Parents: How to Minimize Conflict

What parents should know before their college grads move back home.

College student on laptop

Joe Liebeskind interned with the New Jersey Nets (now called the Brooklyn Nets) in the summer of his junior year of college. At the end of the internship, his coordinator said a job would be waiting for him once he finished school. But the diploma he received in December 2008 wasn't the golden ticket he thought it would be—bad timing meant the team couldn't hire him.

After graduating from Pennsylvania State University, Joe moved back in with his parents in Hillsdale, N.J., for three-and-a-half years. However, his decision to live at home wasn't a result of not landing a job with the basketball team. "I was always planning to move home for at least a year to try and [save] some money, as to not be living paycheck to paycheck with the cost of rent," he says.

Many of today's college graduates follow Joe's path. An estimated 3 in 10 young adults have moved back in with their parents in recent years, according to a Pew Research Center survey released in March. Saving money is their chief concern, as nearly 80 percent of those currently living at home say they don't have enough money put away to lead the kind of independent life they want.

The high cost of education is partly to blame: The average 2011 college graduate with student loans owed $26,600. Consequently, many of today's graduates—known as "boomerang kids"—are turning to their parents for monetary support. They've returned to their childhood homes, hoping that living under their parents' roof will enable them to find a job and save enough money to move out.

[Read: How to Start Paying Off Student Loans.]

For many recent college graduates, sparse jobs and low starting salaries make it virtually impossible to support themselves. Coupled with high housing costs, the real world isn't exactly welcoming to this generation. In addition to financial woes, moving back home can lead to arguments between kids and their parents and can potentially damage their relationship in the long term. Parents who prepare for these challenges before greeting their kids at the front door have a better chance of avoiding these hardships.

Laying the groundwork. Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships With Your Adult Children, says how the parents approach the situation sets the foundation for a healthy living environment. "Both sides need to understand that moving back home is a good economic strategy, and not an indication that the child has failed," she says.

Recognizing that may be more difficult for the child, says Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and co-chair of the Council on Contemporary Families (CCF), which educates the public about new research on American families. "So many people are [moving back in with their parents] that the social stigma around it has been largely eroded, but there are still some kids who are ashamed by it," he says.

Linda Gordon, a psychotherapist in Washington, D.C., and co-author of Mom, Can I Move Back in With You?: A Survival Guide for Parents of Twentysomethings, says kids sometimes mention they "feel like they're getting younger every mile they get closer to home." Once the kid sets aside any initial guilt, Gordon says it's important for the parent to no longer view their living situation with a parent-child dynamic but to see it as two adults living under the same roof.

Brian Canell, a 2011 graduate from the University of Maryland—College Park, noticed this kind of positive change when he moved home. "During high school, they always checked up on me," he says. "After college, occasionally they wanted to know what time I'd be coming home, but they gave me a lot more freedom."

However, some kids like Bourree Lam say fewer ground rules can lead to conflict. She wishes her parents had a conversation with her outlining firmer expectations before she moved home. "Those things are hard to talk about," says the 2007 graduate of the University of Chicago. "When you're a young adult, I think that's when parents feel that they can sort of be able to tell you what to do," but that the gray area is what causes problems.