Let’s Talk Roommates

Dorm room in a typical college dorm

As our kids head off to college, the anxiety starts to ramp up, especially for those heading off for the first time. From my experience, one of the major causes of this nervousness seems to come from living arrangements, specifically the roommate. Many of our kids are used to having their own room, so the idea of sharing a room with another person, and a bathroom with a floor of people may be unsettling. Just like learning to share toys in preschool or kindergarten was a growing experience, so is learning to share a living space with a virtual stranger. I think changing your expectations can certainly lead to a more positive outcome.

So what is your kid’s expectation of their roommate? Your child should keep in mind that you don’t have to be great friends with a person to be great roommates. But, most kids I have spoken with would like to be friends.  Maybe not best friends, but at least friendly enough to grab a bite or walk to the library. Knowing their roommate ahead of time isn’t a guarantee that it will work out. Living together certainly reveals more about a person than a typical friendship.

Many colleges send out surveys in advance that match roommates with similar lifestyles. But these are not fool proof. As the year progresses, a roommate might reveal certain traits that make living together difficult.  The best thing to do is to actually discuss some of these points with your roommate right at the start of the year. But the reality is that sometimes kids find this kind of open communication hard to do with a new person.

Living together takes compromise from both people. Respect is a big part of a successful living arrangement. Your roommate should not touch or borrow your stuff without asking. Your roommate should be quiet when you are trying to sleep or study. Do you expect to study in your room or are you one of those people who studies elsewhere and comes back to the room to relax and blow off steam? Do you want your room to be a gathering place for others or a quiet place of privacy? It seems to me that a lot of roommate conflicts are just that; lifestyle conflicts. But the bottom line is that the dorm room should be a place where your child should feel as if they are home, safe. 

So what happens when expectations do not align with the reality of a living situation? Most colleges have Resident Advisors in place in a dorm. Their job is to enforce the housing rules and mediate any issues that occur. Of course, there are good RA’s and bad RA’s. If your kid is having issues and not getting anywhere by speaking directly with their roommate, the next step is to speak to the RA. A meeting to set guidelines for living should take place. Hopefully after this, issues will be resolved and things will be OK. If not, then your child should take the next step and speak to someone in the housing office. I have one friend whose daughter had difficulties with her roommate and the school was very helpful – in addition to some personality issues, the roommate was borrowing her clothes without asking and leaving them dirty stuffed under her bed – this was very upsetting and disrespectful – she was able to change dorm rooms immediately. Then there was another where the college was not so helpful- there was no room in any other dorm because of overcrowding already so her son had to stick out a bad personality and lifestyle conflict until the next semester and then a change was made. In both these case the kids themselves handled it and dealt with the details and the parents did not get involved. Of course, it was hard for parents to be hands off; what parent doesn’t want to swoop in and make things right immediately?  In both cases the kids’ safety was not in question.  So listening, and guiding from afar, allowed their kids to take care of these situations. Both kids learned how to advocate for themselves.

So if your child reveals that they have some anxiety about their upcoming living situation assure them that it is normal. Talk to them about compromise and being open to getting to know someone new. Reassure them that if they don’t feel safe or have difficulties there are steps that can be taken to remedy any situation. And make sure they know that you have confidence in them that they will be able to handle this new living situation.

Do you have any roommate stories that you would like to share with our other readers?

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Author: Uncool Parent Posted: August 3rd, 2014

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