7 Ways to Straighten Your Boomerang Child

Grown children have been returning to live with their parents in record numbers. Read tips for dealing with your boomerang child.
By Richard Barrington
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Blame the economy. And get the spare bedroom ready.

The recent wave of young adults returning to live with their parents has spawned the term "boomerang generation," named for the object that turns after you throw it and sails back to you -- a painful event if you weren't expecting it. Similarly, if you've recently found your grown children asking to move back in, you may be experiencing pains of your own.

Naturally, most parents are more than willing to make sacrifices for their children, and will make accommodations for them when they are in need. However, when young adults return home, it shouldn't be to experience a second childhood. Parents need a game plan to make the arrangement bearable, get the kids on track to move back out, and most of all, help them finally achieve financial and social independence.

In other words, parents need a plan for straightening their boomerangs.

About the boomerang trend

According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, 29 percent of young adults (ages 25 to 34) have lived with their parents at some point in recent years. As of 2010, 21.6 percent of that age group was living in a multi-generational household -- which typically meant living with their parents.

High unemployment is one reason, but there is more to the trend than that. The percentage of young adults living in multi-generational households has been steadily rising since 1980. Back then, this percentage bottomed out at 11.0 percent, and remained well below today's levels during the early 1980s, even though the unemployment situation back then was even worse than it has been in recent years.

Also, while the trend slowed during the economic boom of the 1990s, the percentage of young adults in multi-generational households continued to rise. The rate of increase has accelerated again as the economy worsened in recent years.

In other words, while the Great Recession may have exacerbated the situation, a long-term trend toward this kind of living arrangement has persisted through multiple economic cycles.

Seven ways to straighten a boomerang

Whatever the reason young adults have for moving back home, some parents may welcome it, while others may view it as a necessary evil. However, in no case should it be an excuse for the younger generation to lapse into adolescence. So, to help make the living arrangements bearable, to keep the kids focused on moving back out, and to help them develop a stronger sense of independence, here are seven tips for straightening out the boomerang generation:

  1. Come up with some kind of rent arrangement. Naturally, this should be on more favorable terms than it would be out in the cold, cruel world of landlords, but the young adult should not be absolved of financial responsibility. With so many older Americans behind on their retirement savings, this extra income might come in handy for the parents. If you don't want to take money from your kids, have them put the equivalent of rent into a savings account, so they start building up the resources necessary to live more independently.
  2. Change rooms. If feasible, put young adults who return home somewhere other than the rooms they grew up in. This will help send the signal that this is not a second childhood.
  3. Establish ground rules for personal behavior. Your home should not be treated as a dorm or a hotel. Rules regarding noise, visitors, and hours for coming and going should be established so as not to disturb your peace.
  4. Monitor job application activity. Make sure your son or daughter is applying for work every day -- and keeping an open mind. Chances are, mommy and daddy didn't start out in their dream jobs, and young adults need to understand that they can't be too choosy in a tough economy.
  5. Make volunteering a substitute for work. If your adult child can't find a job, have them volunteer for a regular set of hours instead. This will help them build a resume, make contacts, and avoid slipping into the habit of idleness.
  6. Formulate a financial plan. Once your son or daughter starts working, help create a budget that will prepare them to move out. This will make sure they don't take advantage of your cheap lodging to simply spend what they earn, and will teach them principles of goal-setting and budgeting that will help them maintain their financial independence once they're back on their own.
  7. Discuss all these expectations explicitly and up front. You don't need a formal contract or rental agreement -- though some might prefer that -- but you do need to set and reinforce these expectations. If they protest against "being treated like a child," point out that you would lay down formal terms for any adult who sought to rent a room for you.

With the baby boom generation now entering its retirement years, the percentage of multi-generational households may continue to increase, but for a different reason: Many aging parents will have to move in with their children for a combination of health and financial reasons. When that happens, perhaps it will finally be the kids' turn to make the rules.

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Shawna 31 March 2014 at 5:42 pm

Maybe your child is entitled, but some of us are humble and extremely thankful for what our parents provide. I paid my own way through college and now have my own debt to show for it. My parents help me out and give me somewhere to stay so that I don't have to worry about the next time I'm going to eat or where I am going to sleep. If you have a good family relationship living with your parents (hell, even having to move in with your children!) isn't that bad.

Cindy 3 August 2012 at 9:10 pm

John and Jenna both must be boomerang kids and not older adults with twenty something children. Check back when you too have a college educated "child" with a degree from a top univerity and a part-time job as a barista, still living in the home you and your spouse pay for.These entiltled kids have got to go...

Michael Reed 9 April 2012 at 1:34 pm

If more parents had the intestinal fortitude to do what they needed with their children they would not need such obvious advice. If I had ever needed such a safety net I would have went into planning it as being a minimum time.

John 6 April 2012 at 8:40 pm

Seconding Jenna's thoughts; this article seems well intentioned but misguided.

Jenna 6 April 2012 at 2:20 pm

Jeez, not all boomerangs WANT to end up back home. I lived at home for two years after undergrad and it's not because I wanted a second childhood, it's because I couldn't find a job nearby and I needed to save money until I found one out of the area. I didn't pay rent, I got to live in my childhood room and my parents' didn't need to check up on me to make sure I was still trying to better myself. If you honestly need to do all these things to help your 20-something-year-old child, then they're probably always going to be dependent on you in some way.