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Boomerang Kids: Dealing With Older Children at Home

Here's how you can keep the peace.

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Yellow house being hit with red boomerang
Margeaux Walter
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During a conversation with my granddaughter, a recent college graduate, I asked her why she was moving back home and not finding a place of her own.

“I can’t afford it,” she answered, explaining that her starting salary wouldn’t cover her living expenses, plus payments on her mega amount of student loans.

Moving home to rent-free parent-landlords is clearly a trend. In 2022, according to studies conducted by the Pew Research Center, 1 in 3 college students moved back home after graduation. And according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report last year, roughly 54 percent of young adults retreat back home at some point after moving out for the first time.

In American culture, those young adults moving back home to live with their parents have been labeled “boomerang kids.”

For many, excessive unpaid student loans and high credit card debt force the decision. Add this to high rental costs and an unstable job market, and the increase in the number of young adults who return home to their parents is no surprise.

But finances are not the only reason.

Depression among young adults is on the rise. Much of that depression is rooted in anxiety and fear of the unknown as young people begin to embark on a new chapter in their lives, facing the difficult task of finding a job and the loss of close college friendships.

The familiarity and comfort of home can be restorative and a respite.

But how do you know whether their emotional distress is due to the major changes in their lives, or something more serious? Among the clear signs of depression, explains David Abrams, a psychologist in Palm Beach County, Florida, are changes in appetite, struggles with energy and concentration, loss of initiative and isolation.

If any of these symptoms lasts for more than two weeks, Abrams says treatment by a mental health professional is essential.

When kids move back home, parents need to remember that these young people have had a taste of independence, something that’s tough for them to relinquish. And parents, too, have savored their own independence, so adapting has to happen on both ends.

At school, Tom and his fraternity pals partied well into the night. But when he moved back to his home in Ohio, tension went to overload. “When Tom was away at school,” his mother, Brenda, explained, “I never gave his late hours a thought. Now I worry until I hear his car in the driveway.”

While Tom wants to continue living his freewheeling life, Brenda says that she can’t sleep until he’s home, sometimes after 3 a.m. And she feels like a “walking zombie” the rest of the day.

“This is a perfect example of two people having very different expectations," explained Laurie Glickman, a social worker based in Irvine, California. “It’s still his mom’s home and she gets to make the rules, and Tom needs to understand his mother’s concerns.” Glickman urges parents to schedule a family sit-down to clarify mutual expectations.

My friend Stan has similar complaints about his 22-year-old son, who has returned home as he searches for employment in the tech field. “He acts like a 15-year-old,” complained Stan. “I lend him my car and he returns it on empty. His stereo blasts all hours of the night. The refrigerator is bare before the day is through.”

To minimize conflict, Glickman suggests that rules need to be written out and renegotiated at regular intervals. “It’s not unusual, because kids can easily forget what they promised to do, especially if they think Mom and Dad will eventually give in and do the chores for them — like they did in their childhood,” she says.

Until they snag full-time employment and can support themselves, parents should insist kids take on part-time jobs and contribute to family funds for food, electricity, phone and cable. And they should gas up the car before it registers empty.

How long a boomerang child should remain at home also warrants planning. “Establish a tentative move-out date, even before they move in,” suggests social psychologist, Jane Adams. Known for her popular website, “The Post-Parent Coach," Adams explained to me that the move-out date doesn’t need to be carved in stone, as it depends on circumstances, "Though a prospective date helps parents reassure themselves that this is a temporary situation."

Here are a few more suggestions to keep the peace when parents get a boomerang plus-one:

Let it be known on move-in day that kids clean up their own messes and do their own laundry.

Establish clear-cut rules as to your sleep needs and schedule. This means your new tenants listen to loud music and streaming shows with earphones. And work out something like, “If you’re not home by 1 a.m. please stay at a friend’s house.”

Family dinners are always a good bonding time as everyone adjusts to the changes at home. Encourage your live-in kids to help with meal preparation and cleanup, and even cook something on their own, maybe one night a week.

Have you had an older kid return home? How did it go? Let us know in the comments below.

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