NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You or probably someone you know has a young adult child living back at home after college graduation (or one who never left after high school graduation). That's the gist of all the research on the financial status of the Millenial Generation (that's young adults aged 18 to 31) whose parents who are supporting them financially.

Several parents told Mainstreet they are supporting their adult kids who are working low-paying jobs by providing cars, paying health insurance, car insurance, cell phone plans, groceries plus housing expenses and utilities and even college costs and student loans without asking a dime in return because they find it hard to even broach the subject of asking their adult kids to pitch in for expenses.

Why is that?

"Many parents of 20-something-year-olds are still operating under a very child-centered parent/child relationship," said David Field, a licensed marriage and family therapist. "By doing this, parents are actually enabling their adult child to remain dependent instead of balancing the relationship and teaching them the responsibilities of adulthood."

Field says when you take complete responsibility for all the finances for your adult child without showing them how it works, you can also give them the idea they are doing enough when they aren't or that they can't do it on their own.

Money doesn't grow on trees

Our parents told us repeatedly, "Money doesn't grow on trees," and we Baby Boomers became very successful at earning and saving money. But in our effort to provide the best for our children focusing on their happiness and self-esteem, we forgot to pass down that all-important money message.

"There is nowhere in this world you can live rent-free," says Yvonne Fengler, a financial services specialist and certified housing counselor for Apprisen, a non-profit financial education counseling agency. While it seems obvious, she had to make the conscious decision and a written plan to teach that to her 20-year-old daughter who was still living at home without a job or college plans after high school.

"Instead of making the changes she needed to become more self-sufficient, she was staying up late, getting up late and spending way too much time on the computer and we were financially supporting that," Fengler said.

Sound like anyone you know?

Your house, your rules

"So, we had a family meeting where we came up with a written plan to point her toward becoming a contributing member of society," says Fengler.

First, they pointed out that as the primary financial support for her, they get to set the rules for their home.

Second, they pointed out that strictly using the computer for online job searches was not working. "We got creative and set an 'everyone leaves the house each day rule,'" Fengler said. "For the next few weeks we dropped her off at the local employment center and treated it as her job."

Fengler reports her daughter got a job within two weeks.

Third, after her job was in place, the Fengler family discussed a fair amount to charge the daughter for room and board.

"We calculated the amount at 30% of her net income — the standard formula - which includes rent, utilities and food," Fengler said. "She purchases all other products, fuel, car insurance and clothing items on her own."

Helping adult kids too much doesn't really help

Another opposite, yet extreme case of adult child support is the Tavanas from South Jersey who almost completely financially support both their extremely well college-educated adult children, age 25 and 27, living away from home while they pursue their dreams, but don't yet earn enough money.

The Tavanas pay New York City rent for a one-bedroom apartment, health insurance and student loans for their 25-year old daughter who has an undergraduate degree and is very diligently pursuing a career as a playwright while she works at Planet Fitness for $9 per hour. They never put a time limit on this scenario, but it's now been three years since graduation and as she approaches age 26, the age when an adult child must purchase health insurance on her own, the Tavanas wonder if they can keep supporting their daughter in this manner and are considering bringing her back to live at home.

They are also partially supporting their 27-year-old son, who has a Master's Degree in International Relations and chose a non-profit job in Washington D.C. that pays only $45,000 per year.

They pay all his student loans and even for a credit card he uses, although he does pay his own rent and living expenses. He was just accepted into a Ph.D. program, which will pay him a fraction of his former salary as a stipend, so they will be taking on more financial responsibility for his living and education expenses in the fall.

Although their retirement savings have been stalled, Lori Tavana says, "I'm not at the point where I'm ready to be that selfish about my future that I'm going to cut off my support for my kids. I want my kids to be able to do what makes them happy and what they're best at." But, they are also not willing to put limits on the son's credit card use or suggest the daughter live with roommates or even find an alternative to paying for cable TV to cut costs.

These two kids are obviously not slackers, and most parents try to support kids while in any type of college. But how much support is too much, where it hinders a young adult's ability to learn how to manage his finances and become independent someday?

"The hardest part to realize is you are not really helping adult kids grow by paying for everything without teaching them what it costs or giving them some responsibility," says Fengler. "Instead, you are setting up a scenario where they cannot thrive without you."

Fengler reports that her daughter plans to move out with several roommates in August, now that she understands the costs and what she can afford on what she earns.

Patty Hasson, president of Clarifi, a non-profit financial education counseling agency, agrees.

"I felt that charging my son a certain amount for living at home after college was important so my son was not getting used to living on an unrealistically big budget," said Hasson, whose 27-year-old son just moved out after five years of living at home after college now that he has steady employment, money saved and knowledge of the financial realities.

Lisa Alyn, a single-mom of two from Miami, has an almost 21-year-old daughter, who just moved back in with her who has finally secured full-time work and a course at the local community college after several years of troubled behavior. Still, Alyn is not charging her anything for rent, household expenses or even the cell phone plan and handles her daughter's cash for a car payment and insurance.

"I'm just not about to ask my kid for money, no matter how badly I need every $50 to pay my monthly bills," she said.

Field says helping troubled young adults to get stable is important for those first few months, but then you want to start teaching them about financial responsibilities such as how to use a bank and how to pay bills on their own, so they can continue to grow.

That's even more important if you're having financial difficulties yourself, says Hasson.

"You have to put the oxygen mask on yourself first and get that adult child who is working to contribute something," she said. "If not, the whole situation is unrealistic and you're setting them up for the same pattern of financial challenges you are suffering."

Hasson says if you have trouble asking for a cash contribution toward household expenses, have them take control and pay the bill for services important to them, such as Internet, TV, cell phone or car insurance so they learn how to manage a checking account and debit card, pay monthly bills for services they are using, how much services cost and what happens when you don't make payments.

Call in the professional help; let kids take responsibility

Another mom of two, Sherrie Lalande, an advanced oncology certified nurse practitioner for Florida Cancer Specialists in Spring Hill, Fla. has her 21-year-old daughter back at home, too, working part-time and displaying a flippant attitude toward finances.

 

"My daughter is not making any future plans, works only about 20 hours [a week] as a waitress and does not save any money or even pay the agreed upon car-insurance bill for the car we gave her," said Lalande.

She says they allowed the behavior while she was taking college classes, but says now that she's discontinued classes, she still seems to think everything is owed to her.

Fengler says when adult kids tune out parents, point them toward local, free professional services.

If gainful employment is the problem, make an appointment at the local employment center, where counselors will guide young adults in creating resumes and practicing interview skills. They will have access to skills and interest assessments and local jobs as well as a structured environment in which to employ a job search.

If unrealistic earning or spending is the problem, make use of free financial and budget counseling from non-profit agency members of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling using the website's location finder. These professionals will help your adult child see in black and white what he or she realistically needs to afford to pay for local rent, utilities, car expenses, cell phone and food on his own so he can make plans for his future.

Lalande's husband is all for the family meeting to put some financial stipulations on their daughter such as transferring the title of the car to her so she can learn the financial responsibilities of owning the car and find out what happens when the insurance bill is not paid.

A final concrete piece of advice: "The hardest thing is sticking to what you say so set written expectations around the finances and make timetables about how long they should remain living at home," says Hasson.

Fengler says she was glad they didn't back down with their daughter. "Getting that first job was the opening of her mind as to what she was capable of," she says. "If we had done nothing, she'd still be sitting around doing nothing. Now she's gracious, thankful and contributing, instead of self-involved and constantly taking."

Now, that's my dream for my nearly adult kids.

—Written by Naomi Mannino for MainStreet