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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.