Roomate Wrangles

Sensible solutions for life in the dorm

This column was published August 11, 2005.

Dear Abby: I am a licensed counselor and adjunct faculty member in communications. I hope you will help me get a message out to parents who are sending their children off to college this fall. Every semester, I see kids who have a miserable college experience because of roommate conflicts. Some students become so distracted that their grades suffer, and some actually move back home.

A successful college experience requires both academic and social skills. Parents can prepare their children by teaching them the vital social skill of settling differences before they become overwhelming. This will not only help the students make their college years, but also the rest of their lives, successful.

I offer five tips for parents:

Offer suggestions, not solutions. Help your children become critical thinkers by imagining scenarios, considering possible outcomes, and brainstorming solutions. Conflict resolution is a skill that needs to be practiced. Telling your children what to do—or worse, handling the problem for them—does more harm than good because it creates dependency.

Prepare for conflict. Teach your child that conflict does not have to be negative; it can also be an opportunity to think creatively. Conflict is inevitable because people are different. Even best friends can have differences in needs, living habits, stress levels, and communication skills.

Share expectations. The more that’s discussed beforehand, the better the relationship. Roommate contracts are popular today, and many colleges require them as a way to get kids talking about their expectations. Encourage your child to discuss things like sleep and study habits, bills, sharing items, cleaning, and the best times to have visitors.

Encourage face-to-face conversations. More and more kids today would rather communicate through e-mail, instant messaging, and text-messaging rather than faceto- face. Without the benefit of facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language, messages can be misunderstood. Also, warn kids that gossiping to others instead of talking directly to their roommates only escalates problems.

Ask for help before the situation becomes critical. Residence-life staff will help mediate as long as the student already has tried face-to-face problem- solving. Too many students wait to mention a problem until they want to move out; or, at the first sign of trouble, they report it to their resident advisor expecting that person to solve it.

The Counseling Center also is available for help if a roommate is exhibiting signs of mental illness such as depression, substance abuse, or cutting. In addition, a counseling session can help your child learn to deal with stress and find better ways to manage the situation.

—Susan Fee, author of My Roommate Is Driving Me Crazy! (Adams Media, 2005)

Dear Susan: I have received mail from students complaining about “the roommate from hell.” And you’re right, too often people (of all ages) wait until the situation becomes critical before asking for help. I hope your suggestions will help parents to have some important conversations with their children before they leave the nest, because the subject is too important to cover in just one session. On their behalf, I thank you for writing.

Dear Abby is by Abigail van Buren, a.k.a. Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips.© Universal Press Syndicate and reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Susan Fee has a B.A. in communications from Western Washington University and an M.Ed. in counseling from Cleveland State University.


Moravian College’s Counseling
Center: Ext. 1510.

Dean of Student Life, Office
of Student Affairs, who
oversees residence hall
advisors and staff: Ext. 1503.

September 20, 2005

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