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Research and Assessment

This page is a resource for professionals who work with parents and families of college students. On this page you will find reports of national research studies, including the National Survey of College and University Parent Programs, as well as research on boomerang families and the impact of parenting styles.

Boomerang Families: When Students Move Home After Graduation

FAQ Plus Icon Intro

 

Research conducted by Chelsea Petree, Director of Parent and Family Programs, Rochester Institute of Technology; Marjorie Savage, Research and Outreach, Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota; and Deanie Kepler, Director of Parent and Family Programs, SMU.

It has become increasingly common for young adults to move back home with mom and dad after graduating from college. While going home may not be the first choice for the graduate or the rest of the family, studies indicate that today's parents may be more accepting of their graduate moving home, and students saw this period as a way to comfortably think about their next steps with less pressure.

To take a closer look at this so-called Boomerang phenomenon, we investigated the subject, including conducting original research. In a national survey of recent alumni, nearly 40% said they had moved back home with family for at least a short time after graduation. A separate national survey of parents of college students revealed that more than half of parents expected this move and predicted benefits in having their student home again. All data was collected in 2012.

Following are specific suggestions for professionals regarding parent information needs regarding a student's return home. Additionally, findings on the challenges, benefits, and tips can be shared with parents, particularly nearing graduation.

Detailed findings of this research can be found in the following articles:

  • Petree, C. A. (2012). Parents’ and graduates’ perspectives on the challenges and benefits to boomerang families. AHEPPP Journal, 3(2), 20-33.
  • Petree, C. A. (2012). Boomerang families: Navigating the parent role as students move back home. AHEPPP Journal, 3(1), 2-16.

 

FAQ Plus Icon Parent Information Needs

 

Parents indicated interest in a wide variety of information in preparation for the possibility of students moving home upon graduation: how to support a job search (63.8%); how to negotiate household responsibilities (41.2%); how to discuss financial concerns (40.3%); how to encourage independence and growth (37.8%); how to negotiate rules (32.7%); and how to establish boundaries (31.9%).

Open-ended responses supported the above finding that information regarding how to support a job search and negotiate household responsibilities were top needs for parents. Even though parents expressed general concern about their students finding jobs, parents frequently expressed concerns about patience and motivation or “being supportive
and encouraging while looking for employment.” Parents mentioned specific household responsibilities and rules as concerns, such as curfews, keeping the house clean, and doing laundry. Although parents occasionally responded that their student must adhere to rules already in place, parents more frequently said they would have to negotiate responsibilities and rules with their student upon returning home. Responses indicated willingness to compromise and communicate about expectations. For example, one parent said a challenge would be "setting appropriate expectations and communicating those in a manner that will instill respect."

Parent/family professionals not only can provide information regarding the top information needs, but can further support this transition by providing talking points and tips for parents preparing for the potential return of their student. Co-residence, as well as renegotiation of the parent-child relationship, may be more successful if families are able to discuss these topics and convey clear expectations and boundaries. The benefits of returning home have been found to outweigh the negative, but only when the relationship was strong or parents felt support exchanges were equal and fair.

FAQ Plus Icon Challenges

 

The transition from an empty nest to a full one is not trouble-free; parents and graduates alike noted that they felt they had lost privacy when the family was reunited. Recent grads resented having to report their whereabouts and explain their routine, while parents anticipated that a full house required a traditional family relationship with shared chores and at least some information about where the young adult was going and when she expected to be home.

Major challenges for parents

  • Negotiating household rules, responsibilities, and expectations
  • Recognizing their young adult’s adulthood status
  • Encouraging their young adult’s job search
  • Loss of privacy and establishing boundaries
  • The additional cost of housing and supporting a young adult

Major challenges for students

  • Loss of independence and privacy
  • Feeling like less of an adult
  • Feeling embarrassed and dealing with negative stigma
  • Decline in social and dating lives

 

FAQ Plus Icon Benefits

 

Students change in significant ways during the college years, and as young adults they and their parents appreciate the opportunity to establish a more equal, adult relationship with family members.

What parents appreciate

  • Spending time with their young adult, including family meals; their son’s or daughter’s company and companionship
  • Supporting their young adult; helping child save money
  • Getting to know their child as an adult; developing a friendship
  • Having additional help around the house

What students appreciate

  • Saving money; beginning to pay back student loans
  • Searching for a job with less financial pressure
  • Having the comforts of home
  • Enjoying the company and support of their family

 

FAQ Plus Icon Tips for Successful Co-Residence

 

During a four-year college experience, adjustments are made in all aspects of a family’s life. Students, parents, and siblings all change, rooms are repurposed, and lifestyles evolve. A Boomerang graduate moving home means everyone must rethink those changes and find new ways to relate.

Suggestions for parents

  • Set boundaries for both yourself and your adult child. Remember that it is important to balance boundaries with mutual respect and independence.
  • Establish expectations about finances. If you’re going to charge rent or ask for contributions to household expenses, clarify the amount, the due date, and consequences if payment is not made.
  • Discuss household responsibilities. Ensure that all family members are contributing to the upkeep of the home.
  • As you interact with your graduate, remember that they have experienced a lot and changed while in college. Take advantage of the boomerang period to get to know your student as the adult he or she has become.

Suggestions for students

  • Remember that your return home requires an adjustment for parents and siblings as well. Be understanding as the family navigates this transition.
  • Living with others brings responsibilities—expect to contribute to your parents’ household as you would your own apartment.
  • When young adults return home, there is always a tendency to revert to pre-college behaviors and patterns. Make a commitment to yourself to maintain your adult status, and when necessary, have calm conversations with your parents about your maturity.
  • Establish a plan for next steps—finding a job; moving out—and work on these goals daily.

 

FAQ Plus Icon Summary

It is not unusual for college students to return home for a time upon graduation, and it is nothing for a college graduate—or parents—to be embarrassed about. Even though there are challenges to consider when a college graduate returns home, parents and young adults see many positive aspects to this move. In many cases, it is a responsible choice and a rational decision for the entire family. The love and support of family members can help a young adult view themselves as more competent and confident, a benefit as they navigate post-college life.

Breaking Through the Barriers of Parenting Styles

FAQ Plus Icon Intro

 

Research conducted by Chelsea Petree, Director of Parent and Family Programs, Rochester Institute of Technology; Marjorie Savage, Research and Outreach, Department of Family Social Science, University of Minnesota; and Deanie Kepler, Director of Parent and Family Programs, SMU.

A common perception is that parents of college students "hover," not allowing sons and daughters to assume adult responsibilities. What may seem like excessive involvement in one family or situation, however, may be appropriate in another. Research has examined the impact of attachment style on child development and family interactions, including in parent-emerging adult relationships. Parenting style, however, has been ignored at the college level, even as professionals who work with students consider other special population factors, such as ethnic background, socio-economic status, or first-generation students. It is necessary for professionals who work with parents of students to consider how to address their communications with parents with attention to different parenting styles, as parents may process the same information through different lenses.

The purpose of this research was to illustrate the impact that parenting styles have on college’s and university’s interactions with families of college students, including learning about how parenting style is related to engagement, satisfaction with programming, and parent concerns.

 

FAQ Plus Icon Parent Characteristics

 

This survey was conducted in late summer 2014 with a national sample of parents of college students. Because of the time of year, the survey was split into two paths—one for parents of incoming first-year students and one for parents of upperclassmen. Parents of first-year students were questioned about their expectations, while parents of upperclassmen were asked about previous experiences. 

The survey included items on: parent engagement with the institution; parent communication with students; satisfaction with communications and programming; how much input parents felt they should have in their students’ lives; parent-student relationships; and parenting dimensions.

Six parenting dimensions were included that fit into two categories: warmth, structure, and autonomy support (supportive characteristics); and rejection, chaos, and coercion (unsupportive characteristics). Overall, parents who responded to this survey were high in supportive characteristics and low in unsupportive characteristics. Most parents (82%) also reported having an “extremely good” relationship with their student.

Parents were frequently in touch with students; more than 94% reported communicating once a week or more often through text messaging; more than 87% were in touch once a week or more through phone calls. Parents were also asked how much input they think they should have in their students' lives for several topics. Respondents reported that they wanted a lot of input in finances and health, some input in academics, career planning, and living situations, and a little input in involvement opportunities, personal relationships, and time management.

Parents reported participating in many of the services provided for families by their student’s institution: 93% attended parent orientation; 69% attended parent/family weekend; 78% read all or most of the newsletters; 63% used the parent/family website once a month or more; and 64% followed the parent/family Facebook page. Additionally, 87% discussed items from these resources with their students. Most parents were satisfied with communications (91%) and programming (89%) from their student’s institution.

Respondents rated sources of information about the institution. Parents found the most useful sources to be: an emailed newsletter (90%); a parent website (88%); their student (80%); parent events (74%); and a print newsletter (60%).

Overall, parents were very engaged in programming offered for families by their student’s institution. Parents were frequently in touch with their students and were communicating about topics learned through parent resources. Parent/family program offices should use the sources used and trusted most by parents and encourage parents to continue to pass relevant information along to their students.

Parents reported strong and supportive relationships with students. However, in order to create communications and programming that reach a wider variety of parents, it is useful to know the role parenting style plays.  

 

FAQ Plus Icon Parenting Dimensions

 

In order to better understand how parenting style was related to a parent’s interactions with their student and the institution, we analyzed differences in parenting dimensions for engagement, communication and relationships with students, and parent satisfaction.

Warmth was, by far, the most important dimension in parent engagement and communication. Parents who were high in warmth attended events, read more of the newsletters, used the parent website more frequently, and had discussions with their students about topics learned from those sources. Additionally, parents who were high in warmth communicated more frequently with their students and felt they should have more input in their students’ lives.

When parents reported higher levels of supportive characteristics and lower levels of unsupportive characteristics, they had better relationships with their students. Further, these parents reported higher levels of agreement that their students had become more mature and independent since beginning college. Finally, parents who reported higher levels of supportive characteristics and lower levels of unsupportive characteristics were more satisfied with parent communications and programming provided by their students’ institutions.

These findings show that supportive parenting was related to healthier relationships with students, positive student development, and greater parent engagement with institution resources.

 

FAQ Plus Icon Parent Profiles

 

In order to learn more about the parents institutions are not reaching through programming, we looked at how parents who do not attend events and do not read the newsletter differ from the overall sample of parents. Similarly, we looked at parents who were dissatisfied with communications and programming in order to learn more about this population, and how to better work with them.

Parents who did not attend events. Parents who attended neither orientation nor parent/family weekend were slightly lower in warmth and structure, but also slightly lower in chaos and coercion. More parents reported having extremely good relationships with students (+2%), indicating that event attendance does not impact parent-student relationships. Parents who did not attend events communicated with their students much less frequently across methods (-8% to -11%) and wanted less input on their students’ lives. Further, these parents are less likely to use any resources from the institution (-14% to 17%) or discuss items with their students (-18%). Parents ranked all sources of information except their students as less useful (-5% to -54%). Even though parents who didn’t attend events used resources from the institution less frequently, their feelings of satisfaction with communications and programming did not differ from the overall sample.

Parents who did not read newsletters. Parents who did not read newsletters from the institution were much lower in warmth, structure, and coercion, and much higher in rejection. Fewer of these parents reported having an extremely good relationship with their students (-7%). Parents who did not read the newsletters communicated with their students much less frequently across methods (-8% to -32%) and wanted less input on their students’ lives. These parents were much less likely to use any resources from the institution (-43% to -64%) or discuss items with their students (-12%). They ranked all sources of information about the institution as less useful (-8 to -45%) and were less satisfied with communications and programming (-27% to -29%).

Dissatisfied parents. Parents who reported being dissatisfied with communications and programming from the institution showed very clear differences from the overall sample. These parents were lower in all supportive parenting dimensions and higher in all unsupportive parenting dimensions. Fewer of these parents (-16%) reported having an extremely good relationship with their students. Dissatisfied parents communicated with their students less frequently across methods (-4% to -13%), yet did not show major differences in wanting input. These parents were much less likely to use any resources from the institution (-6% to -39%) or discuss items with their students (-20%). They ranked all sources of information about the institution as less useful (-17% to -58%).

 

FAQ Plus Icon Summary

 

In general, parents are supportive, have healthy relationships with their college students, and are happy with institutional programming for parents. They use parent services, talk to their students frequently, and want input in the appropriate areas. However, there is a sample of parents who are less supportive, not involved in their students’ lives or their student’s institution, and not using the resources provided to them. Findings of this study showed that the parents who are unsatisfied with our programming, and who are further not using our materials, are less likely to be warm and supportive parents.

There are many ways in which parent/family program professionals can enhance programming to better meet the needs of new and diverse populations; however, it might be necessary to recognize that many of these offices do not have the staffing or resources to meet the needs and expectations of all parents. There are parents who do not have positive relationships with their students and are not looking to have a relationship with the institution.

It is essential to remember, however, that all families and family relationships are different. While, in general, we want parents to use parent/family program services and engage with their students, we do not know why some parents choose to be unengaged. Stepping back might be best for some families, and disengagement is not always a thing to criticize. For example, unengaged parents might be trying to support the independence and autonomy of students, and do not know the best way to do so. Further, parents frequently are nervous about being involved because they don’t want to fall into the media’s negative description of a “helicopter parent.” But the findings of this study are further confirmation that parental involvement is good for family relationships and student development. Parent/family program professionals must continue to debunk the “parent involvement is bad” messages and encourage parents to be appropriately engaged.

 

Professional Development

The Association of Higher Education Parent/Family Program Professionals (AHEPPP) is a national association for professionals who work with the parents and families of college students. The purpose of this organization is to support professionals in higher education who promote student success through informed parent and family engagement. Information about membership can be found on the AHEPPP membership page.