Tuesday 18 December 2018

Dear David Coleman: My son wants to quit another college course. He says he'll go 'crazy' if I make him stay on

Students sitting their exams (stock image)
Students sitting their exams (stock image)
Stock image
(Stock image)

Q. I'm from India, and my son is 20. When he finished school, he couldn't decide which college course to pursue and missed the deadline for application. I suggested he do a six-month diploma but he never finished it. He took a gap year and then started a three-year BA in Social Work. Now, he wants to quit this course (after six months). He says he'd go crazy if he continues, and wants to change course again. We fund everything so I told him he can't change, but am worried that he'll have psychological problems if he stays.

David replies: Yours is only my second ever query from India, so you'll have to excuse me if I miss, or misjudge, some of the cultural factors that might impinge on you and your family. There may be some nuances in my advice that just don't fit, and if that's the case then I'll apologise in advance, and don't feel under any obligation to use it!

Parental support of third-level education for their children does sound like it is universal for those families who are in a position to do so. I think the majority of students rely on parental support (or grant-funding) to enable them to go to college.

Your son, perhaps like many, seems to feel an entitlement to continue in education, no matter the choices or decisions he has made. Your son is privileged to be able to go to third-level education, but he doesn't seem to recognise that. Perhaps he is fortunate enough to always get what he needs, and as likely to get what he wants.

You sound clear, in the query, that you are funding him and that you have already been flexible with regards to changes and indecision in his college choices. You may feel that he has "made his bed and must lie in it", as the saying goes. In many ways, I think your approach is correct in that he definitely needs to take responsibility for his choices.

However, as well as considering the choices he has made, I think, as parents, we also need to look at our part in how our children make decisions, and how they deal with the outcomes of those choices.

To continue the analogy from above, I do think that you might also want to consider that you have helped make the bed for him, rather than him making it himself. I have no idea how you have responded to choices, or mistakes, that he made when he was younger. But it seems to me that, up to now, you have facilitated him. As a result, he has been able to avoid the consequences of his behaviour since he has left school.

He missed the deadline for applying for college courses and you then suggested a six-month diploma course instead. When he didn't like this and quit, he took a gap year. I'm not clear if you took this opportunity, either, to discuss the concept of responsibility for choices with him.

For example, if you are still funding him entirely, then what did he do for his gap year? Did he work? Did he save money to fund any aspect of his own education? Did you set this as an expectation for him? Or, did he just have a great year, either at your expense, or by spending anything he earned?

When he then chose his current college course, did you clarify that you were going to hold him to his choice and that your continued support of his education was contingent on him sticking with the course and successfully passing each year? Because if you didn't, then you missed an opportunity give him the chance to take real responsibility.

Your son is an adult, and adults must accept the consequences of their choices. He may well have made a mistake in choosing social work. Making a mistake is okay. But to learn from the mistake, he must experience, and then deal with, the consequences.

I could imagine that if you really fear he'll "go crazy" if he has to stick with the course he chose, you may be tempted to let him off the hook. But, here again, you may be about to take responsibility for his emotional wellbeing too.

If being upset is a natural consequence, for him, of the choice he made, then this is what he must learn to deal with. If you keep dealing with the consequences of his behaviour, then he never learns to do it himself.

If you have any parenting queries for David Coleman, please email dcoleman@independent.ie. Please note that David cannot enter into individual correspondence

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