Grounded: The stay at home student

Nearly a third of students live at home. How do parents and their students adapt to this new phase in their relationship? Are tensions inevitable and what’s the best approach?

Students: College! Stay out all night, sleep in all day, and bring whoever you want home. Parents: Freedom! No more washing, no more moody teens, no more unpaid taxi service.

Or maybe not. Thirty-one per cent of students in Ireland live with their parents, according to the latest data from the HEA's Eurostudent survey. The high cost of rents and college registration fees prompt many to pick a college within commuting distance: whatever the desire to cut those apron strings, the scissors are just too expensive.

As students move towards independence under the family roof, is conflict inevitable?

Lauren Tracey, aged 20, has recently finished her degree at UCD and is now co-editing the UCD College Tribune. Every day, she spends almost three hours commuting back and forth from Newbridge in Co Kildare to the Belfield campus in south Dublin.


“Money was the main reason I stayed at home,” says Tracey. “It was first year, I was just 17, and it was so expensive to try and rent around Dublin, and even campus accommodation was competitive and expensive.”

Living so far from college hasn’t always been easy, with Tracey often missing out on social nights to catch the last bus home. But she has been relatively lucky in avoiding conflict with her parents. “My parents are easygoing and I’ve perhaps always been that bit more independent, working part-time since I was 16. My parents had no problem in giving me space, but as a basic courtesy, I’d always send them a quick text to let them know where I am or if I’m going to stay out overnight and I would often crash in friends’ houses.”

Tracey admits she still enjoys home comforts. “I still have the Irish mammy. The washing and cooking is often done for me, although one of the big and important learning curves was when I went on a J1 visa to the US last summer and really did have to look after myself.”

It doesn’t always run so smoothly. One student, who asked not to be named, has had almost continuous conflict with her parents. “I went to a university within commuting distance from home, and was really looking forward to the college experience. But my parents – and my mum in particular – has had problems letting me go. They still treat me like a child. I have to say where I’ll be at all times, there’s trouble if I want to stay out late, and even more if I stay out overnight. It has made it very difficult to socialise.”

Last year, a survey from the Irish League of Credit Unions found that the cost of sending a student to college was, on average, €10,000 per year. Laura Harmon, president of the Union of Students in Ireland, says that rising utility and rent costs, as well as a 13 per cent increase in the cost of on-campus accommodation, forces many students to live at home.

The USI has called for temporary rent controls. “We have heard stories of students driving long distances to college, staying on friend’s houses, or in hostels. This can lead students to miss out on the social side of college and makes it harder for them to make friends, says Harmon.”

Conflict between parents and their stay-at-home college students is common, and has become even more so since the recession, says Denise Stokes, a counsellor with NUI Maynooth Student Services. "Parents don't have the space they may have expected, and their grown children can't move out for financial reasons. Young adults are living with other adults and are still seen as children when they want to be taken seriously as an adult.

Resentment can fester around, for instance, children bringing partners home without this having been discussed with their parents. Often, there is little acknowledgement that there is a new system in place now. Parents who are used to waking their teenage children for school are now unsure if they should be getting them up for college. The old relationships have been disrupted, but it is too often not acknowledged.”

The biggest problem boils down to a lack of communication, and Stokes recommends they talk to each long before conflict has a chance to arise. “Parents and their now-grown children need to sit down and work out the ground rules. Is the student going to be commuting and if so, how? What extra responsibility should parents give their child? Not giving them extra responsibility will hinder the child’s growth.”

Parents may worry if their child stays out all night; everyone should acknowledge that this is not ideal, and students should understand their parent’s concern comes from a good place.

There needs to be compromise and negotiations. “This comes back to the basics of respecting the people you are living with,” says Stokes.

Another big bone of contention is around attending lectures. It’s 11.30am, and parents are irked because they’ve shelled out thousands of euro for college registration fees and their sleeping child is supposed to be in a lecture.

“It’s hard for students to be answerable to their parents about where they are and where they meant to be, particularly when see their friends who are living away from home doing what they want. Again, it’s important to have a discussion around this.

“Parents have to allow their child take some responsibility here; it’s the student’s own problem if they don’t get up and go to college every day. The reality is they may not go to college every day. On the other hand, the parents are paying the fees, and the student is living in their home and has to respect their boundaries. Sit down and talk.”

Students: talk to your parents

Accept that increased independence also means increased responsibility, so discuss how you will contribute to the household.

It may be impractical and unnecessary to cook all your own meals in the family kitchen, but could you make dinner for the family one day a week?

Can you agree to keep the bathroom clean, or do the vacuuming twice a week? And can you learn to use the washing machine?

Let your parents know if you’ll be out all night – even a quick text at 10pm is appreciated.

Show them – at least – the same respect that you would show to a flatmate.

Parents: talk to your children

Understand that it is very healthy for them to become more independent, so let go as much as you can. Paying their way doesn’t give you the right to completely control their life.

Ask them to let you know if they’ll be out all night and come to an understanding of how much work their college course should involve.

Agree how they will contribute to the household.