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Clothing Clashes, Housing Decisions, and Financial Management: Part III

Angela Oswalt Morelli , MSW, edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D.

Before youth finish high school, parents need to decide whether they will be providing their youth any financial assistance during their transition to independent living and this decision must be communicated to youth in advance so that youth know what to expect, and can plan accordingly. Each family is different and will have different needs and capabilities. Some families will have the financial resources to help their children as they transition into adulthood, while other families won't have that luxury. Even if parents are financially able to help their children, this doesn't necessarily mean they should. Parents remain influential teachers to their almost-adult youth, and an important lesson for these youth is that hard work, self-discipline, and personal responsibility are necessary in order to acquire some of the niceties of life. Even if parents choose to financially assist their children, they should still establish clear rules and boundaries for this assistance.

3D figures with chat bubblesFamilies with older adolescents should discuss and review their child's future plans for work or school and help them to evaluate their financial needs: 1) How much money can they realistically expect to earn from an entry level job? or, 2) How much money can they expect to receive in college grants or loans, and 3) What will their living expenses be? Youth and families may need to discuss different scenarios and make difficult decisions about what living arrangements will and won't work for their particular circumstances. For example, some families will allow their older children to live with them, provided they are working or going to school full-time, and paying a reasonable share of the household expenses (rent, utilities, groceries, etc.). This amount would need to be discussed and negotiated in advance. Some parents will agree to pay children's room-and-board while at college, but only if the children continue to carry a full course load and receive certain grades. Other parents might decide to pay children's rent and car payment while they're in college, contingent upon their student gets a part-time job to pay for groceries, clothing, and entertainment expenses. The specific arrangements are as varied as the families who make them. The key is for parents and children to discuss and negotiate these arrangements long before the need for such assistance arises.

When it is time for children to move out of their parents' home and into independent housing, parents can help their children to evaluate their housing options, and can help them to locate safe and affordable housing that meets their needs. Whether parents are paying for it or not, parents can help youth evaluate their housing options such as: living in a college dorm, living at home with parents, living with several roommates in a rented home or apartment, living alone in a rented home or apartment, or living with other members of their extended family. Because youth have no direct experience with independent living, they may not know enough to consider factors such as neighborhood safety, landlord reliability, household budgeting, roommate conflict, and other important housing considerations. Thus, although youth must make the final decision, parents can provide invaluable insight into the pros and cons of the various housing options. Parents can raise these issues asking questions; e.g., "Yes Paul, that apartment does seem perfect and the rent fits right into your budget. Have you looked up the crime statistics for that neighborhood yet?" Parents can demonstrate their interest and continuing care for their near-adult youth by offering to accompany them as they look for rental units, or by reviewing rental contracts and other documents related to housing arrangements.

When parents decide they are able and willing to incur some financial liability in order to assist their children, they have every reason to expect more input into the final decisions. Moreover, parents should be clear about what they expect in return for this assistance. For example, if parents co-sign a rental agreement, they may want to tour the property and review the lease. They might even request periodic visual inspections so that they are reassured the property is being properly maintained because if it is not, they could become financially liable for repairs. Parents and youth should clearly communicate their expectations of each other for the provision of financial assistance: 1) the duration of time the assistance will be provided, 2) any contingencies that apply to the receipt of assistance; e.g., maintaining a certain grade point average, maintaining a part-time job, etc. 3) what will happen if these contingencies are not met 4) any expectations regarding budget and spending habits; e.g., if parents are making personal financial sacrifices in order to help their children, they will not want to see their children frivolously spending their own paychecks, while Mom and Dad foot the housing bill.

The best way to avoid disappointments, hard feelings, or regrets is for parents and youth to be as clear as possible about the nature of their financial assistance agreement. This includes a discussion about the consequences for violating their agreement. For instance, if maintaining a 3.0 grade point average was part of the agreement between Hakeim and his parents, but Hakeim's grades fall below this, what will happen? When will it happen? Of course no parent wants to see their child suffer, but parents should be fully prepared to follow through with established consequences even though it may be temporarily painful for their child. Children learn important life lessons from these experiences and one lesson is, their parents are trustworthy; i.e., they say what they mean, and mean what they say. Children at all ages learn best when their choices have real consequences, both good and bad.