Demographer Bernard Salt says the Japanese have a name for adults who outstay their welcome in the family home “parasaito shinguru”, which translates as “parasite singles”. Fairly direct.
Much more so than here, where we refer to them as “Kippers” – which stands for Kids In Parents’ Pockets Eroding Retirement Savings.
Yet it’s not just 40-year-olds with dandruff who still sleep in their original single bed in suburbia.
A 2005 survey found that more than a third of twenty-somethings still live at home – that’s up 300 per cent over the past 20 years.
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Mr. Barefoot’s experience
So when I was approached to be the financial expert on The Nest, an observational documentary on SBS that explores this phenomenon, I jumped at the chance.
This isn’t to say that I could relate to the young adults, some in their late 20s, who chose to live at home.
About a dozen years ago I moved into my first share house with a bunch of young blokes.
It was a disaster from the start.
Without prying parents telling us to clean up, our domestic duties mainly consisted of keeping beer in the fridge.
After someone put laundry powder in the dishwasher, we logically moved to disposable paper plates, plastic cups and cooking from a can.
Around this time we noticed a distinct lack of females frequenting our humble abode, including our mothers, who tended to toot the horn and wait outside rather than come in for a cuppa.
This is a coping mechanism (read: denial) many a mum has developed to counter the harsh reality that despite her best efforts her son is now living in self-made mayhem.
Communal living with peers
One of the first challenges we set for the young participants in The Nest was a swift dose of reality – getting them to move out from their comfy confines and into a share house together.
There’s nothing like sharing with a bunch of over-parented plebs to shock your senses.
Responsibility reality check
If that wasn’t bad enough, we forced them to become self-sufficient.
They had to pay, like, bills. And cook. And clean. You know, like, the stuff Mum does.
Most of the adult children on The Nest had been operating from the “what’s mine is mine and what’s my parents’ is also mine” mentality.
All had jobs. Few paid board.
None of them were close to covering their costs – these were being picked up by the boomer bank.
So when I confiscated their debit and credit cards and exchanged them for the average wage (in cash) for them to live on, they looked dumbfounded. I explained that in the real world people don’t spend $500 on sunglasses.
Nor do they count eyebrow and pedicure treatments alongside necessities such as groceries.
After the first week, one mid-20s participant explained to me in no uncertain terms that “this is like, very overwhelming”.
“I have, like, all these bills to pay.
“I need, like, $1000 a week to live out of home, totally.”
When I explained that some large families live on less and manage to get by, she looked at me like I was from another planet.
One of the main reasons adult children continue to live at home is that it gives them a leg-up financially.
Yet none of the adult children on The Nest, including those in their late 20s, were any better off for all the benefits of being subsidised by their parents. Living at home had not made them better money managers. Quite the reverse.
Most had credit card debts. None had any savings to speak of.
Here’s the rub: letting them stay in the parental pad long after their education commitments had finished had hurt them more than it had helped them.
It was clear that the parents were killing their kids with kindness.
I asked my mum and dad for their views on why so many parents put up with it.
They suggested that having young people around the house makes parents feel younger, but they quickly – and forcefully – added that they wouldn’t have me back (apparently I’d clash with their new curtains).
Love them as I do, I feel completely the same way, especially after spending a weekend with them in the country.
My fellow expert on the show, psychologist Dina McMillan, suggests that in many instances parents (whether they realise it or not) are building up an emotional debt of gratitude that will hopefully be paid off when it’s the kids’ turn to apply the bibs to the parents.
Whatever the underlying motivation, all the parents I encountered were doing what they thought was in the best interests of their children.
The Nest proved that the best legacy parents can give their child is a self-sufficient attitude without a trace of entitlement.
No free lunch
Teach the Kippers there’s no free lunch, or free board.
Yep, even in today’s so-called “housing crisis”, which has been featured so often in the media, many people have begun to believe it applies as equally to them as to those in struggletown.
Okay, I can understand that single mothers on welfare are finding it hard to pay their rent, in the same way that a large, young family has to watch every cracker.
Yet for these kids on The Nest, and the hundreds of thousands of twenty-somethings who live in subsidised suburbia, it doesn’t apply.
It’s just an excuse.
Fortunately there’s a simple solution. It’s called work. Suck it up. Save more. Deal with it.
Move out and learn the value of a buck.
The character-building lessons you learn will put you in good stead for the coming recession.
No one wins when kids outstay their welcome.
Having devoted the majority of their lives and incomes to their parasites, parents aren’t able to get on with the next stage of their own lives.
In a similar way, children are cocooned from becoming fully functioning economic adults.
And one more thing. Even though I was the money man on The Nest, my real reason for getting these kids out of home had nothing to do with money.
Sitting in suburbia with a golden retriever and a picket fence, I look back with fondness on the times I scrounged together enough coin to eat two-minute noodles with my mates.
The truth is, no amount of money can buy back the freedom you (should) have in your 20s.
Tread your own path!