Parents of a College Student: Two Sides of Entitlement

Reader’s Question

Our situation is probably what you hear all the time. We are supporting our 20-year old daughter in a private college. We are paying for her car insurance and we have paid for her car also. All we ask of her is good grades, make good choices in friends, boyfriends, and life in general (smoking/drugs etc.). Well, in her freshman year (the second semester) her grades were poor. She is on a creative writing scholarship so she must keep her grades to a 3.0 minimum. She didn’t that semester, so she was warned of this, so we took the car away until we saw her first semester grades in her sophmore year. Still below the 3.0 GPA. Her second semester of her sophomore year, her grades went up to 3.5, so she got the car back for awhile. Last summer she worked for a camp and we felt she didn’t need the car up there. During the first semester of her junior year, she got the car back. She also had a boyfriend that had no license and lived at least 1 and half hours away from her college. So we told her that she would have to pay for gas, car insurance and any expenses that the car needs. Her boyfriend didn’t have a license and she was doing all the driving to see him. We didn’t want to finance this relationship; she had a part-time job and we felt she should start taking more responsiblitiy in some finances. During this semester, she stole some money from me. I thought the money went to her credit card, but later I found out she used half of it for her own personal use. She has been very disrespectful to us and to her grandmother, yells, screams, and uses foul language with us. She bascially doesn’t want us to impose rules and stipulations on her while she is in college. We have asked her to leave college and get out on her own if she wants to. Presently, she is in her second semester of her junior year of college. She got this internship to work in Los Angeles, but with no car, she didn’t know how to get there. We told her about subways, bus transportation, and the metro link she could use.

But instead she decided to live at home while commuting to school and the internship. We told her it would be a better choice for her to stay in the dorm and do the internship when she comes home this summer. She refused and we flatly told her that if she chooses to stay home with us, she must follow our rules of the house. We basically told her that she can have the car for school and the internship but no car on the weekends. Our car insurance went up when they found out that the mileage on her car would be 1200 miles per month. She isn’t paying the car insurance, we still are. Then we told her there will be a curfew on the weekends if she chooses to live at home. Her friends and boyfriend (if he ever gets his license) may come to pick her up at our house and bring her back at the curfew time. She agreed to all of this. Now she is regretting staying at home, hates the rules and just received 2 parking tickets recently when she was on her internship in L.A. We told her she needs to find a part-time job to help pay for gas, the tickets, and spending money for herself. She wants us to give her spending money, she wants to visit her boyfriend on work days and school days, wants the car on weekends to visit her boyfriend and feels that having a part-time job would ruin her social life. WHAT GIVES WITH OUR DAUGHTER?!!

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I think we have spoiled her so bad, that she thinks she is entitle to everything. She blames us for her mood swings, we are treating her like a teenager, so on and so on. She even has told us that we are bad parents and we do not have good parenting skills. I think it is time for her to be out on her own and maybe she needs to foot the rest of her college bills. What advice can you give me??? Thanks so much for reading this long letter.

Psychologist’s Reply

When your email began, you described supporting your daughter, then described “All we ask…” — good grades, good choices, etc. As you describe the situation, you’re asking for much more. As an observer, you are controlling your daughter’s life and activities, providing and withholding your support based on whether she lives the way you want her to live. You are providing support based on your choices — not hers.

In the big picture — the sense of “entitlement” is destroying your relationship with your daughter. As a 20-year-old, she feels entitled to live her own life with some recognition that she is still a student and needs parent support like most college students. From her perspective, she wants a life like other 20-year-old college students — spending money, a sweetheart, etc.

From your perspective, as parents you feel entitled to control her behavior because you provide support. You don’t have “strings” attached to everything you provide — they’re chains. You’re demanding a teenage-level curfew on a 20-year-old who, if she had chosen the military instead of college, might be overseas in combat instead of driving to see her boyfriend. Your sense of entitlement has extended beyond attempts to control more than college grades and good choices — you’re attempting to control when and how she sees her boyfriend, her finances, availability of transportation, etc. I’m sure you would develop resentment if your employer also demanded a curfew and withheld your paycheck if you didn’t meet their demands outside of the requirements for your job.

As you’ve discovered, “entitlement” doesn’t create a good relationship, because it’s based on selfishness, not love. Your relationship with your daughter has become a business relationship rather than parent-daughter. The goal should be supporting your daughter to attain a college degree and a career — not controlling her life during the process. In an emotional sense, you are losing your daughter. She will move further and further away emotionally if this continues. In a few years, she will have her degree and/or career and will feel “entitled” not to visit and not to include you in her life. Entitlement, you see, works both ways.

My response sounds harsh but your daughter will move toward adulthood despite the number of controls. Yes, you have the right or entitlement to throw her out on her own, without support, and make her pay for college. That will teach her a lesson — that entitlement is more important than love. She will rather correctly view that as punishment and the relationship with your daughter will change forever. All parents of college-age sons and daughters face this situation — how much to support, what to tolerate, etc. From your description, your daughter’s behavior is very normal for her age and situation. I would recommend that you review your parenting priorities and consider supporting your daughter’s future based on love rather than her meeting your multiple requirements.

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