Supporting Your Student During Roommate Conflicts

Roommate experiences can be joyful, memorable and at times challenging. If your student is having difficulties with his or her roommate, you may be tempted to get involved. However, the best approach may be to listen and support your student. After all, college experiences—even unpleasant ones—can be opportunities for personal growth as your student learns about relationships, assertiveness, diplomacy, independence and decision-making.

Avoidance vs. Acceptance

It may come as no surprise 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 the U.S. had experienced roommate problems.

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 realize that disagreements can be common when individuals share living quarters and that compatibility isn't determined by how individuals avoid conflicts but how they respond to them.

Communication = Compatibility

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 or her roommate that is face-to-face and non-confrontational.

During the first few weeks of college, roommates were asked to complete a questionnaire that would facilitate discussion about key topics and encourage communication.

Support Not Solve

For parents, it can be frustrating to know your student may be experiencing roommate conflict. The following suggestions can help you support your student:

  • Listen when your student vents frustrations
  • Let your student lead the conversation and respond in a non-judgmental way. By allowing your student to work through the emotional aspects of a situation, you are helping him or her to move on to the next step, which is finding a solution
  • Support but step away and allow your student to find solutions and follow through with them. If you think he or she is unaware of all the options, then subtly offer suggestions and direct him or her to campus resources like the Office of Residence Life and Counseling Services

Wait to See if it Works Out

Roommate conflict rarely escalates beyond temporary discord. Be patient and give it time. After the fall semester, only 3 percent of freshman roommates request a room change due to incompatibility.