There’s no hard-and-fast rule and ultimately the judgment comes down to personal choice, financial circumstances, or cultural views on the roles parents play within the family unit.
Many people believe parents who don’t charge rent risk causing more harm than good by creating a situation where pampered children end up finding it more difficult to become independent after they move out.
Others disagree, declaring wholeheartedly how such an arrangement never crosses their mind.
With statistics showing more young adults are living at home for longer, and Gen Y finding it more and more difficult to enter the housing market, the issue is troubling Australian parents more and more.
The case for
Sydney woman Lauren Watts was just 16 when she decided to leave school in favour of finding a job in the real world.
Part of the transition included the added responsibility of paying rent at home.
“Back in those days it was about $50 a week but as I got older my rent increased,” the now 29-year-old recalls.
“Mum and Dad sat me down and said now that you’ve got a job you need to pay board because it will teach you that you’ve got to pay for things. It doesn’t just come for free.”
“I was happy because I was being treated like an adult. But then it was also $50 I was going to miss out on every week.”
On reflection, Ms Watts says paying rent taught her valuable life skills and prepared her for an independent future.
“I learned early to save. You have to pay these things in life. It taught me that not everything in life is free but also about responsibility and how to manage my money.”
Ms Watts says many of her friends did not pay rent while living at home and consequently found it difficult when they eventually moved out.
“You watch them move out and have to pay rent and electricity and just the shock they get.”
The case against
On the flip side, Melbourne mother Sonia Pisano says she would never dream of charging her children rent.
“If they’re living at home they’re under our roof and we take care of them for as long as we can,” she declares.
Mrs Pisano has four children, three of them still at home.
Why should they give us money when they can put that money aside for their own use to buy a house or towards a deposit or something like that.
Her eldest daughter, now 28, moved out two years ago after getting married.
She has a son aged 25 and two younger children.
“Sometimes we’ll joke with them and say if you don’t watch it we’ll make you pay rent like everyone else.
“Why should they give us money when they can put that money aside for their own use to buy a house or towards a deposit or something like that.”
While many people argue choosing not to charge rent could lead to some children developing bad habits or a shortcoming when it comes to life skills, Mrs Pisano says that as long as parents guide their children in positive ways there shouldn’t be a problem.
“My daughter lived at home up until she was ready to get married and moved out. She’s fine in managing her money and cooking and household cleaning. If you teach them from when they’re young and you guide them, they’re fine.”
What should parents do?
Professor Alan Ralph is Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Queensland, where a research initiative titled Triple P – Positive Parenting Program, is based.
Professor Ralph says the debate canvasses a complex area of study and many factors come into the equation when assessing whether parents should charge rent.
“Unfortunately it’s a bit like the question of a piece of string. It depends on a lot of factors.
“The fundamental one of course is whether the teenagers are actually earning money.”
Prof Ralph believes several factors should be taken into account when considering charging rent; including a family’s income and cultural views on the roles of parents.
“[But] as a general rule you would expect that if a teenager is living at home and getting the benefits of food, washing, a roof over their heads, etc, that they would be expected to contribute in some way whether that be financially if they’re earning or helping out around the house.”
Prof Ralph says parents who choose not to charge rent need to ensure their children are learning vital life-skills.
“They are entitled to that opinion as long as they’re aware that there are potential costs involved in raising kids that feel a sense of entitlement and are not used to paying their way. That may make it that much more difficult for them to leave home and find their way in the future.”
Other factors many people fail to consider include the very real issue of parents who are reluctant to let their children go, the professor says.
Some mothers have raised up to six children and when the final one leaves the nest they are confounded by the void.
“There are some parents who don’t want their kids to leave home because they are psychologically dependent on them.”