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My teenager refuses
to go to college.

by Keith Rawlinson
Volunteer Budget Counselor

Because I am a financial counselor, what I am about to say may shock some people, but here goes...

is not for everyone.  

Now, before you become appalled at that statement, you have to consider the second part...

is for everyone.

The problem.

I have had parents come to counseling because their teenager is graduating from high school and refuses to go to college.  The parents practically fall out of their chairs when my answer is "Then don't make them go to college."  I always recommend that parents try very, very hard to convince their child to go to college, but never force them to go to college.  You see, not everyone is college material.  College is hard, demanding, exhausting, time-consuming and requires a lot of commitment--not everyone is capable of  enduring all of that for the length of time it takes to graduate from college.  I have also noticed in my counseling that teenagers who are forced to go to college right out of high school often don't take college seriously enough.  Generally in that situation, the teenager treats college like it is just an extension of high school.  I have seen students go to college because their parents forced them to, then cut classes, not study, do way too much partying, and get poor grades.  Far too often these kids end up dropping out and never finishing college--what a waste of time and money!

Now don't get me wrong, I very strongly advocate going to college, but only for people who have what it takes to be successful in college, including having a desire to go in the first place.  If a teenager went all through high school cutting classes, goofing off, getting poor grades and barely graduating, then what do you think is most likely to happen if they go straight to college from high school?  Besides, you have to consider that teenagers are still young, naive and inexperienced.  Most of them think they've got it all figured out and already have what they need to succeed.  You can try all you want to convince them that they still have a lot to learn, but they won't believe you because they think they already know what to expect from life.  But they can't know what to expect from life when they haven't yet had to make a mortgage payment, pay utility bills, put food on the table, pay for all of their own clothing, or take care of a family.  If teenagers already think they've got it all figured out, then why would they be motivated to go to college to prepare for a world that they believe they can already handle?  And this brings up another suggestion I make to parents whose kids refuse to go to college.

The grand experiment.

Oftentimes teenagers just want to get out of high school, get a job and start earning spending money instead of committing to another four or more years of school.  So, I recommend that parents in this situation let the kid take a year off after high school, but during that year, the child is going to have to work and is going to have to start paying for their own expenses.  If the child decides to just sit around and do nothing, then the child will have nothing--the parents are not going to help them out financially.  Charge the kid a reasonable room and board, make them buy their own clothing, make them pay for their own gasoline and car insurance--basically, let life knock the kid around for a year so the kid can see what life is really like and can see that they really don't have it all figured out.  Quite often, after that year is over and usually before, kids are ready to go to college in order to avoid having to live like that for the rest of their lives.  If you decide to try this technique, you don't have to cut the child off all at once--you can remove parental support little by little so the child has time to try to adjust to the situation.  As things get harder and harder for the child, make sure you let them know that you still love and care about them, but they need this opportunity to see how things work out when they try it their way.  

Of course, you parents need to monitor the child's situation closely to make sure they are safe, healthy, and not getting themselves into trouble, just don't jump in and help them out financially unless you absolutely have to.  Be supportive and don't let it become a competition to see who was right and who was wrong.  If it becomes a competition, then the child might not admit they are wrong even if they come to believe they are.  It is all right to let the child know that this is an experiment.  You want to see what happens.  You can even refer to it as an experiment.  Regardless, make sure that the lines of communication are always open.  Talk to the child about how it is going.  Give them emotional and parental support and guidance along the way--just try not to help them out financially.  And please do not undertake this experiment unless both the parents and the child have the temperament, maturity and relationship needed to deal with something like this.  It's okay for life to knock the kid around a little bit as long as it is never allowed to destroy them.  As this experiment progresses, talk to the child about what is going well and what is not.  Then, you might be able to start bringing in what an increase in income would do for their situation and how a college education can provide that.  The cardinal rule of this experiment is to take it slowly and try not to let it become confrontational.  You might even be able to cut some sort of deal with the child: "If after one year you haven't accomplished all the things you said you would, then you try it my way and get more education."

If the grand experiment doesn't sound like something you can do in your family, then perhaps make a deal that you will supply certain things for them as long as they are in college.  As soon as they are not in college, they have to provide all of those things for themselves.  This can be a car, gasoline money, insurance, spending money, etc.  Try to keep the deal open so that the child can come back at a later time and still take you up on the offer.

Remember I said that college is not for everyone, but education is for everyone.

Too many people think that education means going from elementary school to junior high school to high school and then on to college.  Yes, this is education, but it is not the only meaning of education.  Education means to learn by being taught.  So public school and college fit that definition, but so do adult training classes, apprenticeship, trade school, joint vocational school, journeyman training, and on-line courses.  I very firmly believe that not everyone should go to college, but everyone should get an education--especially when it comes to preparing for the world of working for a living.  If your child does not want to go to college, then talk to them about the possibility of some other form of training such as the ones I just mentioned.  You don't have to go to college to become an electrician or carpenter, but you can still make a good living in those honorable professions.  Other honorable professions available without going to college are a chef, welder, machinist, pipe-fitter, mechanic and a large variety of other professions.  Yes, these professions are much more physically demanding, but they can still be perfectly acceptable ways to earn a good living.  It is okay to explain to a teenager that a college education allows them options other than having to do physically demanding labor.  Sometimes when a teenager compares what careers are available without a college education to what careers are available with a college education, they will become motivated to go to college after all.  If you can, take the child to a variety of different job sites and show them the difference in such jobs.

One of the biggest problem I see, when it comes to education and careers, is that far too often parents have already decided what their child will do for a living before the time even comes.  Then, the parents become upset when the child wants to go in a different direction and the whole thing becomes a huge confrontation between the child and the parents.  To truly be successful and happy in a career, a person has to be doing something they love--something they feel they were made to do.  If a parent forces a child into a career path the child doesn't really want, the child's heart will never be in their work and for the rest of their life, job satisfaction will be hard to come by.


If your child doesn't want to go to college, first try very, very hard to convince them to do so.  Make deals, bargains and agreements if you can to at least get the child to try going to college.  If the child still refuses to go to college, then possibly let them try to support themselves for a time while they still have the parental home as a safety net.  Try to help the child find some other form of career training in a field in which the child is truly interested.  And remember that education doesn't have to be formal.  If your child just cannot function in any form of job training, or is already doing nothing but manual labor jobs, then at least have them spend some time at the library learning new things that may help them improve their situation later.  If you want to see how education affects income, then check out education and income.

To learn a lot more about saving, investing, eliminating debt and becoming wealthy, please read the articles on the Financial Page.  There, you will find a veritable treasure of what to do and how to do it.

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Please know that all of the thoughts, information, suggestions and techniques given on this site are nothing more than the author's opinion on the matter being addressed.  Do further research before making any decisions.

This article copyright 2007 by Keith C. Rawlinson (Eclecticsite.com).  All rights reserved.
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