Re-Advised: Questioning Dad

This time in Re-Advised we have a father who is preparing to send his daughter off into the world. Problem is, he’s not quite ready to give up control.

His letter to Dear Abby reads, in part (for the full letter and answer, click here):

“I recently took my daughter to an “open house” at our local college. My daughter refuses to ask questions, so I started asking about credit hours, finances, scholarships, etc.
A few people were not happy that I was there. I was told that I was what they referred to as a “hovering” parent . . . I told them . . . that because I was paying for her education, I wanted to know what I was getting for my money.
Should I have left her there on her own … ? I know kids need to grow up and make their own mistakes, but if they do it with my money, they won’t learn …. Do you think I was out of line? — QUESTIONING DAD IN ARIZONA”

Abby’s advice, as usual, was good as far as it goes:

I don’t think so. … the questions adults would ask might not be the same ones their teen might think of. However . . . it’s possible you did go overboard, and it’s time to begin encouraging your daughter to be less of a shrinking violet. Being so shy that she’s unable to ask questions is a handicap in a competitive academic setting.

All good stuff, but I have a little more I want to say to dad.

Dad: it’s time to take a step back. Your daughter is about to be an adult and take on adult responsibilities and it is time for her to make her own decisions, face the world on her own, and face the consequences of her actions and decisions. Let’s take a look at some of the things that are going on here.

First, your daughter is not a commodity, she is a person. It is true that you are about to invest a whole lot of money into her education, but if you insist that this gives you the right to make the decision about what the money is spent on, you are setting yourself up for disaster. Choosing a school is not like choosing a car. If she has to drive a Honda instead of a Mercedes, she will learn to live with it. If she has to go to your choice of school rather than her choice of school, she may not. Her happiness will play a part in how successful she is at school and if she is not happy with where she ends up, then her chances of success are lowered.

Second, remember that although your daughter is about to go off on her own, she is still a teenager. She has different priorities than you do. She probably doesn’t care about credit hours and finances. She probably cares about what majors they have, what the atmosphere on campus is like, what type of students tend to go to that school — are they people she will fit in with? Is it too big or too small? Does she like the town it’s in? These questions may not matter as much to you, but if they are everything to her; she will find those answers just by being at the school, not by asking a lot of technical questions at orientation. It’s time to let her start being an adult, and that means letting her make her own decision about this, based on the factors she finds important in a school. The other thing to consider is that she refused to ask questions because of your presence. Maybe she didn’t want to bring attention to herself, and maybe she didn’t feel comfortable asking the type of questions she wanted to ask in front of you.

Now, on to the money issue. You are definitely putting a big chunk of money into this and it is understandable that you don’t want it to be wasted. But listen to yourself. This is your daughter you are talking about, and you are not displaying a lot of confidence in her. If you have raised her to be a responsible human being and to value education, then why are you so worried about what will happen? If a college education is really what she wants, then she should be committed to doing well in school. Is a college education really what she wants? If it is not, or if ultimately she is not ready for it, then no amount of control you exercise over what school she attends will protect your investment. Anything can happen once she leaves the home, and I am sure that’s frightening, but being controlling now while you still can is not going to prevent things from going badly in the future. Again, a college is not a car. If a student drops out of college it is usually not because the college was poorly designed or constructed. It is almost always an issue with the student.

If you are concerned that she will not take the responsibility seriously, then make a deal with your daughter. Explain to her that the money is a loan, but that when she graduates from college the loan will be forgiven. If she does not complete college, the money you spent becomes owed back to you, to be paid off gradually when she gets a job. Giving her a stake in it should make her very aware of the cost if she does not succeed. If she is an adult, then she will have debts to pay, and many students take on the responsibility for their student loans themselves. If they can do it, so can your daughter. You cannot live her life for her and she must start learning how to deal with adult responsibilities such as making life decisions, taking on financial responsibility and living on her own. If this does not sit well with you, then you simply have to accept that, like all investments, this is a gamble, and if it pays off, it will be well worth it for you to see your daughter succeed.

Here’s a hint: if people who deal with prospective students and their parents all the time tell you that you are hovering, then you probably are. It doesn’t sound like they were all that gentle about telling you, but they were trying to do you and your daughter a favor. This is her first step out into the adult world and it really is best if she takes it on her own.

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1 comment for “Re-Advised: Questioning Dad

  1. Jenny
    May 17, 2010 at 11:40 am

    The Doting Dad isn’t all wrong, though. Many students are unaware of what college or university entails. He says his daughter didn’t ask questions. Whether this is because she is shy, or she doesn’t want to appear ignorant, or she doesn’t want to question those authority figures at the college doesn’t excuse her lack of enthusiasm or participation in the process. And so her father, being a responsible party, asked the questions for both their benefit.

    As someone who has worked in education and college counseling, I’ve seen all kinds of parents. This one doesn’t sound like a hoverer. And I think in giving general holistic advice, we as writers may project the ills of many onto just one subject in the interest of time and readership. But let’s be fair: a parent has the right to know. And most students really don’t realize the fuzzy math of their student loans (and most parents unfortunately do the straw man co-sign onto a loan rather than take a bank loan out…more problems upon problems).

    Most kids want to impress the world. They choose a big university and get lost in the shuffle. They don’t realize that oftentimes one community college course is equivalent to two or three university required courses. Then there are those who flounder at junior colleges, taking empty non-transferable units because they don’t know the transfer process.

    And there’s the rub. If you have a good counselor, a friend who has done it before you, or a vigilant parent, you’re in a fortunate position not to learn through trial and error, losing time and money in the process.

    If a student is going to be responsible, he or she has to ask questions. If she’s shy, etc., no matter if she’s at Brown, UCLA, or GCC, she’s going to be confused. And let’s not kid ourselves, these schools are businesses that thrive off people’s educational pursuits at a rate that many of us never see an ROI for in the working world.

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