So what if your new roommate is crazy?

Sharing a 115-square-foot dorm room with a stranger has always required some adjustment. (For reference, the master bathrooms of some homes now measure 180 square feet.)

But experts say this year’s incoming college class and the rest of the millennial generation are ill-equipped for the compromises and negotiations required for living in such close quarters, with increasing numbers turning to their parents for solutions.

“We get parents calling and demanding that they want their kid out of a room immediately — but there’s been no conversation between roommates,” said Chris Jaehne, administrator for residential life at the University of Washington.

With many universities at capacity, many report that students can’t fall back on requesting a single room or moving without first arranging a swap.

About the third week of school, parents can expect a call or e-mail. “That’s when the conflicts heat up,” said Susan Fee, author of “My Roommate Is Driving Me Crazy!: Solve Conflicts, Set Boundaries and Survive the College Roommate from Hell.” “What seemed cool is now really annoying.”

Roommate troubles aren’t limited to freshmen; in fact, sometimes there are more problems with sophomores, who often choose to room with a friend, said Romando Nash, director for residential learning communities at Seattle University. Underclassmen there are required to live on campus.

In a new, often high-pressured environment, many students see the privacy of their room as a haven. So it can be a shock to discover they can’t, say, study in their own room (their roommate is enjoying downtime watching TV) or sleep in peace (roommate’s boyfriend or girlfriend is always over).

Possible consequences of roommate conflict include increased stress, a drop in grades, forking out for a move or even dropping out of school entirely. “If the living environment is disruptive, then students can have difficulty concentrating and studying,” Jaehne said. “And that’s what they’re really here for.”

Experts cite several trends contributing to increased roommate difficulties:

Smaller families, less sharing

At the end of their child-bearing years, a fifth of moms reported having only one child in 2002, more than double the percentage in 1982, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. More than four out of 10 moms had two kids in 2002. With increasingly large houses, few siblings have to share rooms or even bathrooms, experts say.

For Kent State sophomore Mark Thomas, living in the residence halls was the first time he said he ever had to share his personal space.

Thomas lived in Lake Hall as a freshman and said verbal altercations are common when living in the dorms, but sharing a room with a stranger was not as uncomfortable as he expected.

“Honestly, it did not bother me one bit,” said Thomas. “It can be annoying when he borrows things without asking, but I would die of boredom without a roommate.”

Helicopter parents

So-called because they hover, helicopter parents try to save kids from unhappiness and frustration by swooping in to protect them and solve problems. As a result, some say, many teens today lack the ability to deal with challenges or resolve conflict. With parents who can’t say no, overindulged kids end up with “unreasonable expectations about having things their way,” Fee said.

I’ll take care of it

At one time, universities acted in loco parentis (in place of parents) but stepped back in the `60s and `70s to treat students more as adults. Now it’s not colleges in loco parentis, it’s parents themselves who won’t relinquish control. Too often, officials say, parents listen to the one-sided criticisms and become phone-line rescuers.

“We’ve seen an increase in phone calls from parents,” Jaehne said. And not just to him, but to the president or provost’s offices, demanding moves or single rooms (nonexistent for freshmen). “Parents are more involved in their kids’ lives growing up now and that isn’t changing when students leave for college. They’re still very involved. It’s becoming more and more of a challenge for us.”

University staff seek a balance between treating residential life as a developmental stage for students and catering to parents as paying customers. Slightly more than half of the approximately 4,750 freshmen will live on campus in the UW’s seven residence halls.

Resident assistants, also known as RAs, are trained to help students with their problems in and out of the classroom. Graduate student Beth Kocab, a former RA at Leebrick Hall, said one of the major issues RAs face is helping students deal with their roommate conflicts.

“I was always the peacemaker whenever there was a problem between roommates,” said Kocab. “As an RA, you have to get good at being a mediator and push them toward a resolution in a healthy way.”

Most of the time, though, venting is all students need.

“My parents acted as an outlet for me,” said Emily Mackelprang, a UW junior and resident adviser who said she would have been mortified if her parents had intervened on her behalf. “I let out all my frustration at them and that’s all I needed to do.”

“When you get to college, there’s this sense of freedom that your parents are not here to baby-sit so you can do what you want,” said Josh Leavitt, who graduated from Washington State University in 2003. “Pretty soon you realize, `Oh, there are other people around me. I’ve got to cater to their needs and expectations as well.’ You learn early on to let things roll off you.”

At many schools, roommates sign an agreement spelling out everything from how often should the room be cleaned to keeping the room warm or cool to how much notice is needed before a guest stays overnight.

While it’s important for roommates to consider such issues, students usually sign the documents during the early honeymoon period when they don’t think they’ll have any issues, Fee said. “It’s, `Yeah, whatever, I’ll sign it because I have to.’ Then when the problems come out, no one takes (the agreement) seriously.”

– Stephanie Dunnewind, The Seattle Times ( Terrell Johnson contributed reporting to this article.)