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Hey Mom, Dad, May I Have My Room Back?
Bobby Franklin Jr., confident and energetic, seemed on a trajectory to an independent life—going to college, moving into an off-campus apartment, and jumping into the banking industry just weeks after his last final exam. Only, the Clarion University graduate circled back home like a boomerang1. Inside his parents’ elegant five-bedroom house in Plum, he has settled into a roomy bedroom, with its own staircase leading outside. His return home has raised nary an eyebrow with his peers. After all, he said, most of his friends have moved home, too. “Everyone is doing it. No one says, ‘Why are you still at home?’” said the twenty-four-year-old. “I never get that. It is more like, ‘Stay at home as long as you can and save.’”
Some parents who pondered the loneliness of empty-nest syndrome are facing a surprising new question. When will their young adult children leave home—and this time for good? The sight of a college graduate moving into his or her childhood bedroom, filled with dusty high school trophies and curling rock-star posters, is no longer an oddity. A sour economy, big college loans, and sky-high city rents have made some new graduates defer their plans to strike out on their own.
Boomerangers, as they are called, are everywhere you look. Some 14.5 million children age eighteen to twenty-four lived at home in 2007, up from 6.4 million in 1960, according to U.S. Census figures. To be sure, much of the increase simply reflects overall population growth—as the actual percentage of men living at home is up only slightly, from 52% in 1960 to 55% in 2007. The bigger change has occurred with women. Nearly half in this age range were living at home in 2007, up from 35% nearly a half century ago—a shift attributed in part to the delay in marriage.
Other reports suggest the number of boomerangers is even higher—and has grown as a tough economy has made it harder for debt-laden college grads to find jobs. Some 77% of college graduates who responded to an unscientific readers’ survey by the online entry job site CollegeGrad.com said they were living with mom and dad in 2008, up from 67% in a 2006 survey. “We see a larger percentage of Gen-Yers or Millennials, or whatever tag we want to use, have a closer relationship to their parents and feel more comfortable relying on parental support,” said Heidi Hanisko, director of client services for CollegeGrad.com. “There is less of a stigma than there was five or ten years ago. We see that as a good thing that college grads are willing to go to their parents for support, but we encourage students to stand on their own. It seems the reliance can be too much and spill over on their ability to do the job.”
Others also wonder if this generation 5is coasting and letting their parents do too much. But Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens through the Twenties, is tired of hearing all the judgments against the Boomerang generation. Most of them move home for a year or two while they go through a transition and a period of self-discovery—waiting for graduate school, looking for a fulfilling career option, paying down a huge loan, or saving enough so they can afford big-city rent. “People jump to the conclusion that they are lazy and irresponsible and pampered and self-indulgent,” said Dr. Arnett, a research professor at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. “It is not true. Think about the ones you know. Are they lazy? Do they stand around in their underwear watching TV? No. They are out working their bottoms off trying to make money in these crummy jobs available to them in their twenties.”
Mike Masilunas’s old childhood bedroom—the one with photos of him fly-fishing and Jerome Bettis playing football—was converted into an office inside his family’s Peters house. So when Mr. Masilunas, a graduate of Penn State Erie, moved home in May of 2007, he had to share a room with his older brother. In the musical bedrooms of his household, Mr. Masilunas later took over his younger sister’s bedroom when she headed off to college. “We joke about the movie Grandma’s Boy, hanging out all the time, sleeping on the couch,” said Mr. Masilunas, referring to the comedy about the guy who gets evicted from his apartment and moves in with his grandmother.
The twenty-three-year-old financial consultant said it made sense to live at home because it is close to his office. Plus, there is the matter of $40,000 in student loans. “I can put $600 toward school loans instead of rent,” he said. “Rather than living for right now, I am thinking about a house and retirement. I can put up with this for a few years.” Most of his friends understand because they are at home too. Sometimes he catches flak. “You gotta get out of there,” one friend told him recently. “The ones who give me flak are the ones spending money like idiots,” he said. “They are also the same ones who complain about not having money.”
And there are trade-offs to his rent-free existence. He gets along well with his parents and pitches in with chores, but it is an adjustment to go from total freedom to being under his mother’s watch. “A mother will always be a mother. They only want the best for you. They are always nagging you. I kind of zone it out. ‘Do this. Do that.’ The first month it was like, ‘Let’s pull back the reins a little bit.’” Plus there is the culture shock of going from a college campus to a quiet residential neighborhood—something Brenna O’Shea experienced after graduating from West Virginia University and heading back to her parents’ home in Mt. Lebanon
Even though the twenty-one-year-old Ms. O’Shea has plenty of company—most of her friends from elementary school have done the same thing—she misses the energy of the campus. Her first night back in Mt. Lebanon, she caught herself yelling a little on the street. “I had to check myself.” “It can be a hard adjustment both ways,” Dr. Arnett said. “If children regret coming home, it is not because of the stigma. They like their parents and their parents like them. But they want to make their own decisions without parental commentary. Parents aren’t that crazy about it either. They like not knowing. If they don’t have any idea what time their kids come home or who they are with, ignorance is bliss.”
In the Franklin home, Jan and 10Bobby Franklin, parents of Bobby Jr., can’t help but worry about their son when he is out. Even so, they like having him around, especially since he follows the house rules of picking up after himself. Mrs. Franklin knows another mother who put her thirty-year-old son’s mattress on the porch, a not-so-subtle hint to fly on his own. “I could never do that to my son—as long as he is not causing any problems.” Still mother and son have a standing joke about his boomerang back home.
“When are you going to move out?” she asks Bobby Jr.
Bobby, who plans to leave in a year or two, quips back, “I am not going anywhere until I am at least thirty.”