Public Release: 

Study Finds Teens Who Thrive, Survive While Living Alone

University of Cincinnati

Cincinnati -- Statistics indicate that teenagers who live away from their parents without any adult supervision are high-risk to become high school drop-outs. Joel Milgram, a University of Cincinnati professor of education has found that a small number of teenagers and parents choose to live apart yet maintain themselves in high school. The teenagers fell into three categories, those who left on their own, those who were kicked out, and those who agreed to live alone with their parent's consent.

Milgram's research is the focus of a chapter in a forthcoming book. "One of the redeeming qualities for all of the kids in this research was that they all were determined to finish high school. Ironically, though most of them had negative feelings about their parents, they admitted to learning the value of education from their parents," he said.

According to Milgram, a developmental child psychologist who has done extensive research into the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children, there are children of various socio- economic backgrounds who have graduated from high school and improved their situations on their own, without adult supervision. Most of the adolescents lived in relative poverty, with the exception of those subsidized by their parents, and represent a small percentage of kids who were relatively successful.

Twenty-two adolescents in Boston, Cincinnati and Spokane were interviewed by Milgram and Nancy Britton, a psychologist in Boston. Seventeen of the 22 participants reported that their grades went up or remained unchanged. Ten stated that they studied more while living without parental supervision. The most valued aspect for all of those living on their own was the general initial sense of freedom.

In Boston, a 16-year-old announced he was gay and his middle-class family told him that he could no longer live in their house. He moved into an apartment with friends who were also his age, yet remained in school and eventually graduated without any support from his parents. They chose not to attend his high school graduation.

A young man and his parents mutually agreed that he would move out of the house because of their constant conflicts. They subsidized an apartment for him as long as he would not live with them anymore.

A teenage girl whose divorced mother bought a Winnebago to take a two-year tour of the U.S., decided not to go with her mother. She lived in the family home by herself to complete high school.

Teenagers chose not to inform school authorities but rather decided to confide in one individual teacher. Most schools officially did not know or "did not want to know" the students were living alone because they would legally have to contact a social service agency.

"The perception that children did not consider the school as being supportive and chose only to confide in one person rather than the administration says something about the general perception of the institution from the child's perspective. Some of the teachers who were confidants shared that perception."

In some cases, the child's quality of life went up when they began living on their own. Milgram found one student whose eating habits improved after her mother left town. She began eating more healthy foods. School counselors also felt many of the student's lives had improved since living on their own.

Many of the students held part-time jobs but lived in substandard housing. The landlord may have known the teenager was living alone, "so if something broke down in the apartment, it did not get fixed. The rent, however remained low," Milgram said.

One student worked three part-time jobs and sold his plasma to a blood bank every three weeks yet remained in school for more than a year.

Milgram said the identification of unemancipated teenagers, as well as the study of the group, is of educational importance. The number of young people who live on their own while attending high school is unknown. The category is not covered by the United States Census.

"This research indicates that the values we pass on to our kids become a very strong part of their belief system. So, even though they may say that they hate you, they hold on to certain values. It also shows that these adolescents will confide in an individual teacher but have a mistrust of their schools as a supportive institution."

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