Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on October 10th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 7, Episode 2, The Day Alex Left for College

Plotline: Alex Gets Her First College Lesson
Alex comes downstairs with a single suitcase and a lone duffle bag.
Claire: Look at my conscientious little girl getting ready to leave for college a whole day early.
Alex: I’m leaving today.
Claire: What? No. No, no. I was gonna make your favorite meal for dinner, and then we were gonna fight because of separation anxiety, and then tomorrow morning, we would make up before you leave for good.
Alex: This is exactly why I didn’t tell you! … I have never felt better about a decision.

Alex gives her parents the wrong move-in date and gets Haley to drive her to school to avoid making it a big deal. And because she feels so ready. As she confides to Haley: Do you know how long I’ve been dreaming about this day? I’m just really ready for this. I’m finally surrounded by smart, curious people.

Then she meets her roommate.
Maisie: Hi! You must be Alex. I’m your roomie. I’m Maisie. My dad says it’s short for Amazing, but it’s not.
Alex: Wait, I picked a different…
Maisie: Roommate? I know. She got sick. She got a panic attack. Anyways, they denied her visa, and she’s still in Norway.
Alex: Uh, how old are you?
Maisie: Oh, I’m 15, but I’ve seen four R-rated movies already.

Things go downhill from there. And as soon as Maisie leaves the room, Alex begins punching numbers into her cell phone.
Alex: This ends now.
Haley: What are you doing?
Alex: What do you think I’m doing? I’m getting rid of her. I’m calling my advisor and getting a new roommate.

(Click here to see how Haley intervenes to teach Alex her first lesson about roommates.)

Guidelines
Freshman year of college may be the only time that our kids will spend a year living with a total stranger in a hundred-square-foot room. As much as we might hope that our student will get along perfectly with the other student who shares their close quarters, it doesn’t always turn out that way. As Alex found out, roommates won’t always be what was hoped for or expected. And even the most compatible roomies will have disagreements.

Until students are in the situation, it’s hard for them to know what it will take to get along. And many students won’t know how to fix things when there is a conflict. So don’t be surprised if your phone rings with your unglued college freshman on the other end, complaining about their roommate.

When that call comes, it’s easy to get caught up in your student’s frustration and pain. But if, instead, you strive to see this as an opportunity for them to learn some things about getting along with others, you’ll be better able to provide the warm, sturdy support they need.

To be most helpful, first ask what they’ve tried. Listen. And then, when the time is right, fill-in what’s missing. The following are some talking points for you to use when you fill them in.

Adjust expectations. It helps if students understand that issues are a normal part of good relationships. Knowing that there are bound to be conflicts can help your student take things in stride.

Address things when they’re small. Talk about what’s bothering you as soon as possible. But don’t confront your roommate when you’re upset or when your roommate is dashing off to class or when you’re in front of others.

Agree on a time to talk. You’ll have a better chance of getting your roommate’s attention if you start with a sentence or two like: There’s something important I’d like to talk about. Is this a good time for you? If not, ask to set a specific time later that day or week.

Try to approach the problem in the way you’d want to be approached. Be assertive without blaming or being angry. Don’t apologize for bringing up the issue. If you do, you may not be taken seriously. But don’t suggest that they’re a horrible person either. That’ll just make them defensive. Instead remind yourself of any good things your roommate brings to the relationship. And strive to come across as a nice, reasonable person talking to another nice, reasonable person.

For example, let’s say the problem is about cleaning (one of the biggest areas of roommate conflict). Don’t begin with: You’re such a slob. I can’t even find my desk because of all your junk. Instead try: I need to stay organized, and I can’t when your stuff is all over. Beginning with “I” instead of “you” will make it easier for your roommate to hear and will connect how your roommate’s actions (or inactions) are affecting you.

After stating your case, listen to your roommate’s side of the story without becoming defensive. Assume your roommate didn’t setout to make your life miserable. Respect their point of view. Try to stay curious about why a nice, reasonable person might act the way your roommate does. And be open to the idea that you may be doing some pretty irritating things too.

Come up with a solution that both of you can live with. Neither of you may leave 100% happy. But if both of you are trying to get along and you’re both being honest and open, chances are you’ll be able to come up with a fair compromise.

Know when it’s time to switch. You’re entitled to a reasonable roommate. So if you’ve tried compromising and tactful reminders, speak with your resident assistant (RA) who is trained and paid to help with problems like this. If that doesn’t fix the problem, it’s time to insist on a new roommate or a new room.

Tonight, Alex gets her first college lesson before classes even start. Chances are it won’t be her last lesson on the topic. But the lessons learned will have enduring value. After all, knowing how to bring up a problem and compromise with a roommate isn’t a skill that only new college students need. Sharing an apartment or a home can be just as complicated.

Connecting Lines:
Tape Modern Family and use it to connect with your kids – whether they’re teens or young adults. You might be surprised how much you’ll laugh together while watching and learn from each other in the conversations that follow.

Below are a few conversation starters for this episode:
Nobody likes to bring up a problem. But relationships are stronger if you talk things out when there’s an issue. So what would the conversation sound like if…
– Your friend borrowed your putter (or favorite pair of earrings) and hasn’t given it/them back.
– Your friend constantly leaves candy wrappers and empty pop cans in your car.

Sources and Resources: “Roommate Relationships” from BWell Health Promotion at Brown University, Picture from ABC



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