Deborah Ross: Trauma awaits those who long for empty nests

If you ask me...

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If you ask me, the news that children are living at home for much longer is a worry, particularly if you long to suffer from "empty-nest syndrome", and have even taken to hanging around doctors' surgeries in the hope of catching it. My own GP is sympathetic, and allows me to hang around all day if I wish because, as she says: "Although we don't think it's actually contagious, we accept that many parents are willing to try anything. Have you also tried sitting next to the person with the cough on the bus? It may well be worth a go."

However, if you've failed to contract it thus far you may have to seek alternatives. Your best bet is to start when your children enter their late teenage years, and behave as they do, which should make home rather less comfortable for them. I write with particular reference to teenage boys, and would suggest you behave as follows:

You must always leave jam in the butter and butter in the jam after making toast or a sandwich. You must spend hours in front of a mirror inspecting yourself for new hairs and checking on the progress of old hairs, like some kind of Statue of Puberty. You must never use a towel without taking it from bathroom to bedroom and leaving it in a damp coil on the floor. You must drink all the Tropicana in one go and then replace the empty carton back in the fridge, as the alternative might mean having to rinse it out and put it in the recycling, like you don't have a life.

You must say you will return the towels to the bathroom later. You must repeat: I'll do it later. You must have a mobile phone but never answer it. You must steal music while looking at smut on the internet and pretending to do school work. You must take, take, take and then go crazy when someone forgets to record Peep Show or The Inbetweeners.You must ignore all other family members unless you want to tap them up for a tenner, in which case you may be nice to them for a bit. You must wear your jeans hanging half-way down your arse.

You must never leave the house without carrying some form of fake ID. You must always wear dangling earphones so that others have to bang on your head and shout: "Hello, hello, anybody in?" You must always look in the tissue after you have blown your nose and then offer to pass it round.

This should make them want to leave. If not, try your local swimming pool. You can catch most things there.

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