Teenager taking a year break after H.S. before college–Turns into 2 years, what now?

Apr 15, 2011 1:47pm

Dear Liz, I'm a single mother of two girls, ages 12 years old and 20 years old. After graduating from high school, my oldest daughter decided she wanted to take a break for a year and not attend college. Well it's been two years now. I'm very frustrated and disappointed with her, but I try to be optimistic that she will do something with her life. She sleeps late and lounges around all day. Her actions are driving me crazy! She does work part-time, but does not save her money. She expects me to buy her a car, which I will not do because she hasn't shown good judgment and financial responsibility to get a car. She will not even save towards purchasing liability insurance to get her license. I've given her the choice of working full-time and moving out, enrolling in college or the Army or Air Force. Is this approach to harsh? What else can I do to motivate her? Thank you for your advice.

Raleigh / NC


Hi in Raleigh,

Thank you for writing, you know it’s shocking how many letters I receive from people in similar situations. Of course you’re disappointed that one year delay turned into two. It is our biggest fear when our kids ask to take that gap year between high school and college…But you allowed it.  I would have suggested if she really wanted to wait a year to go to school, that you make it crystal clear ONE year.  And the alternative is a job that affords her to contribute to what ever you choose at home.  Car, insurance, food, etc… Those are the choices, take one and leave the other. 


Moving forward, I would suggest a similar tact, close to what you suggest in your letter.  However, I would make it a little more specific and realistic.  Your patience is key here for her future and for your relationship.  IF she does not choose go to school, she must contribute to whatever you decide,  Insurance, bills, food, something monthly.  You then explain that this is a limited time offer.  In six months or a year, she will have to be out on her own or in school.  

Then,together the two of you should sit down and look up what it would cost her to rent an apartment.  Figure out the monthly costs, and explain that if the choice is not college ( and I assume you’ve made it clear what a college education would  do to increase her earning potential later) then in a year she will have to take on the expenses you both just figured out in apartment or living situation of her own.  And then you MUST stay true to your word. This would be the best time to reiterate again the advantages of an education.  Times are harder than ever, all the more reason for her to choose to make the decision that would offer her the most opportunity for the kind of life you know she wants.  


It is so difficult, we love our kids, we don’t want them to suffer, we wish they motivated differently.  But what’s hard on our kids, is when we behave in a certain pattern, say things that are true, and then don’t follow up because we find it too difficult.  IT sends a confusing message.  And then one day boom we mean it and our child is not prepared.  So have some patience, and let your daughter know this is it…and you are doing it because you love her so much. The time frame is fair and your method should be calm and without judgment.  Just factual.  I can’t stress this enough to you…go over and over and over this short term plan with her until you believe she gets it, and then wait for her choice.  But she needs to begin contributing to your household today!


Great things for the both of you!




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