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College try: Should the Dad make sure his kid goes to class?

for The Brooklyn Paper

Suppose my 18-year-old daughter, a college freshman, sent me an e-mail saying she was going skiing with friends in Vermont, missing classes for a week. Should I wish her a safe trip? Lecture about making responsible choices? Send her a bill for the week’s worth of tuition she wasted?

Is college my daughter’s to do with as she pleases, or mine to exercise some control over. Is it a gift, or a job?

Accepting that I’m not there to tell her when to study or do her laundry, I understand that she is living her life now, with responsibility for feeding, clothing, and taking care of herself day to day.

She is also in charge of the classes she takes, the activities she participates in, all the stuff that she is supposed to get out of college, leading to a career or at least a first job. I don’t expect any student to make perfect decisions, in fact campus is a place to screw up now and then. What happens though, when she is not using the experience in a way I approve of?

An undergraduate degree is a huge investment for any family, no matter how much assistance a student gets. It is four years in the life of my girl that should mean something. Should I treat it like work, requiring adequate performance, regular reviews and promotions or demotions depending on how she is doing? Should I tell her to drop a sport if her grade-point average doesn’t reach some arbitrary number?

This seems like a bad path to start down, leading to a horrific fight, ending with me yelling, “If you don’t do it my way I won’t pay for you to go to school!”

Still, it is hard to accept simply sitting back, writing checks every few months, and just watching if I think she is wasting the experience, goofing off, or wandering direction-less through her academic landscape.

Perhaps it is the scale that makes this hard. When she was a toddler, if I bought her a new, cool toy and she opened it excitedly, then promptly smashed it to pieces in a fit of gleeful violence, I wouldn’t have minded. The joy that 10 bucks provided seemed worth it. When I give something away, I lose control over it.

If college is a gift, it is certainly the biggest one she’ll ever get. So what if she trashes it, wasting opportunities or choosing bad ones? What if she flunks classes or ends up with a degree in basket weaving? She’ll have gotten something out of it, right?

I’m not sure, but I am confident yelling or stomping my feet isn’t going to help.

There must be a middle ground, where I can offer perspective, maybe even a little advice. She may well make good decisions and work hard. She may even call when she doesn’t know what to do. If she sees me as an ally, rather than a boss or police officer, this might work out for all of us.

Then the bills will certainly be worth it.

Read The Dad every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.

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Michael from Bay Ridge says:
You seem to see only two options, hands off or super controlling. You can always tell her you think it's a bad idea to skip classes without trying to punish or threaten her.
A question for yourself might be - what would make me stop paying for her school. It's your choice depending on your finances and wishes. You can even tell her, I won't pay if you flunk, if you really would do that. If you won't, it's just a pointless threat, so why say something that's untrue?
College isn't a job, and if it was, you aren't the boss, more like an investor. The school and professors are the boss, and they evaluate her performance and give out the grades and eventually the degree if she doesn't continue cutting.
Skipping class is not a good idea - and to do it for a vacation is really kind of bratty. Did you let her skip school in high school if she wanted to do something with her friends? Where did she get the idea that that's acceptable? Are you paying for her ski-tirp? That's one way to stop it. I think you should help her pay for school, but you don't have to give her money to cut and go skiing. that would be fair, and it's not a punishment, just not financing something you don't think she should be doing.
Feb. 20, 4:50 am
Mike from Williamsburg says:
You don't go to college to learn, anyway. You just graduate to show employers that you're the type of person who graduates college.

When I was a freshman, I left an away message up from overnight saying I was asleep when I went to take a final. My mother called me to wake me up, but just ended up waking up my roommate. I was quite cross. The only other time in college she called to wake me up was 9/11.
Feb. 20, 8:08 am
Michael from Dyker Heights says:
You're wrong if you think college isn't a place to learn. College was the first place that taught me life lessons, showed me where people who care about their futures went, and allowed me to advance quickly in life. Without college I would be not even be close to the person I've grown into. I give credit to my undergraduate and graduate schools for everything that I have.
Feb. 23, 6:03 pm

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