Should I Let My 16 Year Old Grow Up or Push for College?

Reader’s Question

My 16-year-old does not care about school and gets in arguments with teachers and school staff. He has a job and does not mind working 30-40 hours a week, but will not study. His GPA is 2.05 and sinking towards a level that will not get him to college. I tried to cut his hours at work, but then he goes out, smokes and drinks. We tried to cut his privileges, but things gets worse and he even left the house once. He’d like to go to college, as most of kids from his school will, but somehow expects that to happen by itself. We have a stable family with good income. He has a car, cell-phone and all what he needs. His paycheck is his pocket money. His older brother is in pre-med school and always was a straight A student. I am at the point where I am considering just letting him grow up and study when he is ready, if ever…any suggestions?

Psychologist’s Reply

Your experience is not uncommon. From his standpoint, he’s doing well. Extra money, car, cellphone, and a job at 16. When he looks at college, perhaps the most obvious issue is he can’t compete with his brother, the pre-med, straight-A guy. Even if he followed the college model, he’d always be No. 2. He may have the feeling that parents are pushing him to be like his brother and for him, that’s a no-win situation.

As a parent, your job at this point is as you suspect, allow him to mature some more. On the positive side, he has a good work ethic (working almost full-time and attending school) and still has college goals. On the negative side, he is starting to do things that might knock him off track such as drinking underage. As parents, try to keep him “within the lines” — moving toward a mature adult outlook and staying within the boundaries without getting into trouble at school or in the community. Right now, he has found his identity in employment and friends. Encourage him to keep up his grades to keep his options open in a few years. He’s very likely to end up in college but unlike his brother, he will probably take the “rough road” to get there. Our goal is to keep him out of trouble while he grows up and matures over the next several years.

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