How Can My Student Manage Roommate Conflict?

Best friends, rivals or something in between?

Roommate experiences can be joyful, memorable and, at times, challenging.

During difficult times, it may be tempting for family members to want to get involved.  However, the best approach may be to patiently listen and to support your student.

College experiences—even unpleasant ones—can be opportunities for personal growth as your student learns about relationships, assertiveness, diplomacy, independence and decision-making.

Fueling or Feuding Relationships?

It may seem logical that freshmen are the most likely candidates for roommate woes.  A  survey by the Higher Education Research Institute at the University of California Los Angeles found that 29 percent of the 31,000 freshmen surveyed across U.S. had experienced roommate problems.

However, upperclassmen are not immune to this situation.  Years of friendship can end suddenly over issues either related or unrelated to room sharing.  At the extreme end, a once anticipated time of shared graduation celebration could become a tense encounter if roommates have a strained or even severed relationship.

Avoidance vs. Acceptance

While some students may prefer to just let things go rather than inform their roommates of difficulties, this approach can lead to resentment that builds over time. Instead, students should be resolved to the fact that disagreements can be common occurrences when individuals share living quarters. In addition, students can benefit from realizing that compatibility isn't determined by how individuals avoid conflicts but how they respond to them.

Communication is the single most important factor affecting roommate compatibility. During times of distress, roommate disaccord can start with a simple misunderstanding that escalates into a major problem if left astray and fueled by emotions. One way to help avoid such frustrations is to encourage your student to have ongoing communication with his/her roommate that is face-to-face and non-confrontational.  This allows roommates to forge a relationship based on self-expression as well as empathy.

During Weekend of Welcome and the following week, all new students were encouraged to sit down and complete roommate questionnaires that facilitate discussion about key topics involved in sharing rooms.  This opportunity is designed to begin the process of ongoing roommate communication.  As the school year progresses, roommates are encouraged to continue dialogue about key issues, such as hours for guest visitation, sharing personal items, room chores and cleanliness.

Sometimes students will avoid direct discussions by using technology to help them insulate communication.   For example, some students prefer to express themselves via online and text messaging to avoid the potential discomfort of face-to-face interaction.  In some cases, roommates can be in the same room together and opt to instant message one another rather than verbally talk.   Other times, students may vent about their roommates while blogging or chatting online.

Support Not Solve

For parents, it can be difficult to know your student may be experiencing roommate conflict.  The following suggestions are ways you can support your student during this challenging time.

Listen when your student vents frustrations.

Let your student lead the conversation and have your responses be non-judgmental
. By allowing your student opportunities to work through the emotional aspects of situations, you are helping him/her to move on to the next step, which is finding solutions.

Support but step away and allow your student to take the lead
in finding solutions and in following through with them.   Being self-directed helps your student to grow and to gain confidence in his/her abilities.   If you think he/she is unaware of all the options, then subtly offer suggestions and/or direct your student to campus resources, such as Residence Life  and Counseling Services.

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