While kids heading off to college dorms may be excited about their new roommates, everything might not go smoothly. Many students have never had to share a bedroom. What should parents tell a student experiencing conflict?

  • Don’t let an issue fester Many issues can be negotiated — when to turn lights out, when music should stop, how many nights a week, if any, a girlfriend or boyfriend is welcome — simply by fast, direct communication. “It’s usually the small stuff that escalates into ‘Now I’ve had enough,’ ” says Catherine-Mary Rivera, director of residential programs at Stony Brook University.
  • Prioritize Remind your child they may not get everything. Ask them to consider their “hard nos,” says Beth McGuire, director of residence life at Hofstra University. “Compromise is going to be a new thing they need to work out,” she says. “It’s hard to say you want all these things and not give on what they want.”
  • Mediate If your child is uncomfortable having the conversation, suggest they enlist their resident assistant. “Resident assistants are trained for mediation and conflict resolution,” Rivera says. They can help set up agreements. Says McGuire: “We ask them to write it down, to agree upon it and sign it.”
  • Keep perspective Remind the child that their roommate doesn’t have to be their best friend. “A lot of growth and insight can come from this if they give each other a chance,” Rivera says. Roommate changes are an absolute last resort, McGuire and Rivera agree.

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And what should parents do?

  • Stay on the sidelines Parents shouldn’t get involved unless there’s a health or safety issue or inappropriate or illegal behavior. “They may be anxious about their student’s experience, but we ask them to let us handle the process,” McGuire says.