Sensible solutions for life in the dorm
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.
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
• 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.
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.
Center: Ext. 1510.
Dean of Student Life, Office
of Student Affairs, who
oversees residence hall
advisors and staff: Ext. 1503.