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Is your son or daughter throwing away their higher education?

February 19, 2014

I commonly see parents of young adults in university/college where the student is throwing away their education, putting more time towards partying and recovery than studying and earning grades. Common to these situations are often backgrounds of privilege with the parents carrying the tab – both for the bar and the books. What’s a parent to do?

While the parents are focused on their son or daughter, I am focused on the parents. I find that in these situations, the parent has set a goal of happiness for their child. They want their child to be happy.

This is not an unreasonable goal, but unfortunately, the strategies aimed at achieving it are often misguided.

In an effort to facilitate their child’s happiness, these parents have been apt to pave the road ahead of each step the child takes throughout life; are too forgiving of transgressions without requiring accountability and restitution; and seek to provide all the trappings of the privileged life with nary the work to achieve those trappings. So what looks like a happy child is in fact an indulged child.

Being indulged, these children come adulthood are not equipped to handle the ups and downs of life. Having the road paved ahead of each step, they have little resilience, the ability to overcome adversity. Further, having been indulged, there is an expectation that the trappings of life should be handed to them instead of earned. Without experiencing consequences and without having to learn to delay gratification, these kids come adulthood expect the world to revolve around them and that there should be no recourse to them for untoward behaviour. Indeed, instead of happy, they are egocentric and when not catered to, they are dissatisfied, which only prompts the parents to provide more in their quest to facilitate happiness. This is a terrible conundrum where the child’s behaviour escalates out of control and the parents find themselves having to kowtow more and more to the inordinate demands of the child.

The real key to happiness in life is in learning to take responsibility. As one is responsible for one’s actions through consequences and through having to meet one’s own needs and wants, then happiness can be achieved. The reasons this leads to happiness is because as we take care of business, learn the consequences of our behaviour and earn/contribute to our needs and wants, we stay out of trouble and learn to appreciate what we achieve. Then we are happy!

Want to help your young adult get more out of life? Pull the plug thus requiring them to be self-sufficient. Let them experience the consequence of their own choices – good and bad. Let them taste life itself before enjoying the trappings of life.

Oh they will protest and blame and call you names. They will threaten you and even themselves. They will do whatever it takes to hold the parent hostage for the return of the old regime such that they can continue to live the pampered life – on your dime. And quite likely, those bully tactics have worked before so why not again.

Parents, the challenge is less trying to change your son or daughter and more in holding to your guns to no longer spoil or indulge. Only then do your children have a hope of becoming responsible and then later, happy.

Withdraw financial support. Let them come home with the expectation of having to work. It’s not like they will lose their education as that is likely already the case. At home, they should be expected to pay room and board as well as all costs for their use of the Internet and smart phone.

Angry? Yes.

But then they can really grow up and will have earned the bumps and bruises to prove it.

Oh – If they don’t want to work, they can leave home.

Tough? You bet.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

(905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

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  1. Gary, this is another perceptive article. I love the following:

    “The real key to happiness in life is in learning to take responsibility. As one is responsible for one’s actions through consequences and through having to meet one’s own needs and wants, then happiness can be achieved.” It is a disservice to a child to overly indulge him or her.

    For a short video, Thoughts on Parenting, see

  2. Reblogged this on Tulsa Family Law Blog and commented:
    Gary Direnfield offers some excellent counsel here. It is easier to give this advice than to follow it, but you and your adult child will benefit.

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