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March 05, 2014

Do parents – if they can afford it – owe their child a college education?


By Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

Many people — especially the education-loving parents who find themselves reading GreatSchools — will be tempted to say yes.

After all, shouldn’t parents take their responsibility to support their children’s education seriously — not as a whim, but a sacred duty? 

Consider, then, the story of Rachel Canning, an honor student and cheerleader who broke news this week when she sued her parents to pay for her college education.  According to press reports, the senior at a Morris Catholic High School claims she was kicked out of her home when she turned 18 in October.  The teenager then moved in with her best friend, whose parents are reportedly footing the bill for the suit, which also demands financial support, her current private school tuition, and legal fees.

CBS 2 TV reported that the Superior Court Family Division Judge Peter Bogaard denied the girl’s requests for funding from her parents citing the daughter’s alleged behavior over the past year including “one or two school suspensions, drinking, losing her captaincy on the cheerleading squad and being kicked out of the campus ministry."

Her parents for their part claim that their eldest daughter was not kicked out, but left since she did not want to comply with the house rules and curfews. In a letter to friends and family (reproduced by Ashbury Park Press), the parents said their children always came first: “Whatever they wanted, they received. If it meant that we went without, then so be it.” Rachel’s lawyer told the court the teen’s home life is an “abusive unhealthy situation.”

This is an unusual case – but the transition of children into adulthood in our culture is nothing if not fraught. Teens push boundaries and lash out. Parents threaten (and sometimes act on) all sorts of crazy things in an attempt to hold those boundaries. It can get ugly even in the best of homes.  Rachel may be a normal girl who is having a very public teen temper tantrum.  Her parents may be normal parents whose admonishments that their child follow the rules or move out came astonishingly true.  

Although most of the public response to Rachel’s suit has been unmitigated disdain ("spoiled" is getting a lot of headline play), I know a woman who 20 years ago experienced a similar break with her parents.  Rebelling against her father’s strict rules, she moved into a friend’s house at 16 and was summarily cut off.  Her father, a wealthy lawyer, declined to support her college education despite her admission to an Ivy League.  My friend made it through university with a combination of jobs, grants, and loans and went on to yet another Ivy League for her PhD. In later years, she maintained a relationship with her parents, but it’s safe to say the wounds from those years never completely healed. 

We may never know the emotional truths behind this particular legal battle, but one thing is guaranteed: when private family feuds become the stuff of lawsuits, we need to scrutinize what we believe as a society.  Right now, we’re in a moment that puts huge stock in a parent’s responsibility — we want parents to step up, seize their enormous influence, and assume the role in helping their kids get ready for the world. At the same time, when taken too far, this can create perverse distortions — where a teen decides that not only is she entitled to private school tuition and a college education, but that it merits the attentions of our public courts.

Does the moment when a teen turns 18 create an ethical as well as legal line in the sand? Do kids have a legitimate case if their parents yank away promises of college support? Where do a parent’s responsibilities end and the child’s begin?


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This young woman is learning a valuable lesson, albeit it a bit late. Any employer will have rules to abide by in order to maintain employment. Any relationship will have mutually agreed upon rules, or else it will not work. When an adult child lives at home, the rules apply. Curfews. Chores. Respect. If not, the option is simply to move out, act like an adult, and work for what you have. End of story.

I know that if it were your child, one would tend to think twice about cutting her off completely and leaving it up to herself to put herself through school. Unfortunately it might be the only way this girl will learn that she doesn't always get her way in life. She has an entitlement mentality and if she doesn't learn now that it doesn't work in life, she is in for a rude awakening someday. Respect has to go both ways and it has to be earned. She obviously didn't learn that lesson yet. It is time she did.

the first things you say about this young woman is "honor student" and cheerleader". maybe USED TO BE should have prefaced this? upon reading further, “one or two school suspensions, drinking, losing her captaincy on the cheerleading squad and being kicked out of the campus ministry." this sounds like a girl who has decided that she doesn't need to follow rules of school, society or her parents' house! while i don't know the particulars, she says she was kicked out and her parents say she left because she didn't want to abide by the rules of the house. then, she should suffer the consequences of her actions! get used to it babe....no one in real life is going to coddle your ass. seems like she got what she deserved and is in for a real awakening (along with the friend's parents who are harboring her).

Parents have no responsibility to fund education beyond high school, period. In fact, young adults do better when they are paying their way. They try harder when they are paying to go to class. They have a vested interest in their education. Plus, youth have more satisfaction when they can say they paid their own way. I'm not saying parents cannot or should not help, if able, during the transition to independence--just saying it is not an obligation to fund a legal adult. This case is ridiculous and those involved should be embarrassed (not the parents). Too many people feel like they are entitled to too many things! Spoiled!!

People are so quick to judge! I don't think this girl sounds "spoiled" at all; it sounds to me as if something bad has happened to her recently to elicit negative changes in her behavior. Maybe she doesn't come from as happy as family as her father would like everyone to believe. I wish I had thought of suing!

My parents couldn't afford to help me pay for college so I did it myself. I was an honorroll student and got some scholarships but the majority was on me in cash and loans. They paid for me until I was 18 and graduated from high school. I got a job at 14 to buy things I wanted that they couldn't afford and paid a small fee for rent and food after I graduated high school. My college education benefited my future so why should my parents have had to pay for it? Interested to see how this plays out...if she wins I'm sure there will be more suits to follow. Shame on the other family for not sending her back home but I do believe the parents should pay for her expenses and tuition until she graduates high school and is 18. If she is in a tuition based high school still they should at least finish there but the family who took her in should make her get a job and cover the rest...part of not sending her back home.

Young people in the U.S.A. have too many choices. Only in the USA would you hear about kids suing their parents. Rachel is 18 years old, at this age she is responsible for her own actions. If she chose to live with her parents, she has to abide by their rules. Whether it's a happy family or not, it is not a one way street. She gets all that she wants including private schooling, but she has to give something back in return: the good grades are for her benefits and future, but respect, chores, curfews are not much for her parents to ask for. If she survived there for 18 years with them, she could have survived another 9 months until she goes to the university of her choice, which would have been paid by her parents and she could have had the freedom that she wants so badly. That would have been the smart thing to do!

If she won't respect her parents, what makes anyone think she will respect anyone else. Let her finish out High School in a public school and then she can get loans to pay her college. Maybe if she worked for something, she could appreciate what has been GIVEN to her.

Her parents aren't denying her an education; they're just refusing to pay for it. She can attend public school for high school, and take out loans for college. She doesn't want to; she wants to live by her own rules and still have her parents pay for what she wants. Did the reporter miss the part of the lawsuit where Canning wants her parents to pay for 'support' as well as her private school tuition?

Her parents say she has money in a college fund; let her use it to finish the high school education she started with her friends, and whatever is left can go towards college. She pays for college herself.

It bothers me when people automatically think these parents must have been monsters. I had a child very similar to this and when she didn't get her way accused my husband and I of all kinds of horrible things and moved out. A generation ago children were lucky to have parents who could help them yet many found a way to get an education - even if they had to go to public school! One has to ask if it's the education the girl wants or is it her freedom on mom and dad's dime. I suspect the latter.

I think this young lady has forgotten the law: at 18 you are considered an ADULT. I had the choice to stay home and abide by the rules and my father would help support me through college. My junior year I decided to leave home and move in with my now-husband and school support was terminated. Never once did I contemplate suing my parents for support with my college education. I was old enough to leave home and live my life as i pleased, then I was also old enough to pay college. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

When I was 18, I opted to enter the military and forgo college. My mother was fine with it, my boss however was not. He offered me a management track within our small, 3 outlet specialty sailing company, all I had to do was enroll at any local college. My point is that I had options, lots of them, many of us did. Many of my classmates had clear options to put off college and work instead. Why not? We were making more than enough money. If we worked hard, we went far. However, the world has changed. It may not apply to this young woman, it seems that she comes from a position of privilege anyway, but how many of you commenting here really believe that a child turning 18 today can find a career without a masters degree? Your Baristas's have them, so do many of your retail "associates" at Walmart. Again, the world has changed, and we're (as evidenced by the comments here) stuck in this paradigm of "you're an adult now, make your own way"! "You've just done 12 years of continuous school, now do another 6-8 years so that you're competitive in the entry level market". That request is fine for some, ridiculous for others. My belief is that this young lady needs to grow up some, and that it came as a sort of shock to her. It might help though if her parents had grown up a little as well and realized that all the whining in the world won't bring yesterday back. The challenges their daughter faces, and the world she'll compete in looks nothing like the one they came from. (P.S. When I started University, years after the military and then tech school, you didn't actually have to go to class. You simply had to pay for class and pass the tests. Try that today and see how far you get, even at a private school that you're paying for yourself.)

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