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my son the slacker

My son, who is a senior in high school this year, has just informed me that he doesn’t intend to go to college next year. Instead, he and a friend will get an apartment together here in Buffalo, find menial jobs, and take a year off—maybe a couple years, who knows?—before considering whether and where to apply.

I am deeply concerned by this, because I’ve seen plenty of young people drift into regular, workaday lives, and away from the path of higher education and all the advantages it conveys, after making choices like this. I don’t particularly like the friend; he’s not a positive influence. I imagine all sorts of opportunities disappearing for my son if he makes this choice. But he’s 18 and I can’t stop him. All I can do is argue with him.

And that’s getting difficult to do, because my son keeps using his uncle, my husband’s brother, as an ally. My son asked John, who he is close with, what he thought about the idea of skipping college for a year or so and moving out, and John told him he thought it was a great idea, that he’d done the same thing and look how well things had turned out for him, and that he was sure my son would make the right choices.

Well, John’s family had money. His year off was spent traveling in South America, not barbacking at Gabriel’s Gate. There was no question that he would eventually go to college. The situation with my son is different: We don’t have money, and he’s not a lock for college.

What should I say to my son? If he goes ahead with this, do I let him do his laundry here? Do I feed him? Give him money when he asks for it, as I know he will?

And what do I say to his uncle? He’s been a friend to me, and I don’t want to create a rift in the family, but his support for this feels like a betrayal.

Concerned P.U.

The Omniscient One says: There’s not much you can do. However, when a graduating high school senior wants to take a year off, it’s not always about school. It’s a year off from being told what to do, when to do it, where to be, and perhaps even how to dress. If your son is intent on going to college, eventually, he should be aware that each year he takes off the tuition will rise and he will be one year older than the incoming freshman. To postpone college for one year won’t make that much of a difference. To postpone it for three or four years will make a big difference both socially and in expense. If an 18-year-old freshman wants to date a 23-year-old, they’ll expect them to be a college senior not a freshman lab mate in Physics 101.

The Gay Perspective: Don’t approve, but be supportive. Let uncle know your concerns, but don’t argue. Allow laundry, but only when convenient for you. Give money when you are asked, but never enough.

You are right. You have no control. Smile, be patient, and extol the benefits of higher education until he is ready to listen.

When he throws Bill Gates in your face as the example of success without college say, “There’s one…” and remind him that Gates is one of the nation’s greatest supporters of higher education. Or ask, “Are you planning to start your own company? How exciting! Where are you getting the money?”

When it comes to children, all you can do is raise them. You’ve done that. Congratulations!

Smart Money says: Your son is becoming an adult and it’s time to let the little bird fly. You can’t make his decisions for him for the rest of his life. Okay, you don’t agree with this choice, but he’s 18! This is the best time for him to make his mistakes. Maybe he won’t go to college. Unless you’re footing the bill for his room and board, it’s his choice. Let him get an apartment and have a good time while he’s young. Soon enough, we’re all trapped in a tiny cubicle for eight hours a day making money for someone else. Someday, he may choose to go to college. Or maybe he’ll find a decent job he likes without being in debt up to his eyeballs. I would put 20 bucks on the kid ending up in college in under two years. Lighten up, keep the lines of communication open, and your son will likely be on the daddy track in a relatively short period of time with a greater appreciation for education.

FYI­—it’s not a bad thing to let your son know that Uncle John was, is, and will always be a spoiled little twat.

Strictly Classified says: Your son is an adult, and has to start making his own decisions. I can see how you would want him to go to college, but that may or may not be the path that works for him. He might be better off in the trades—after all, one can make a decent living as a plumber or electrician.

That being said, if he wants to roam around the countryside doing what he pleases, he should pay for it himself. A good friend of mine from high school opted not to go to college—he went to Alaska for seasonal work in the fisheries. He would work his ass off for a couple of months, and travel the rest of the year. He still lives a semi-nomadic lifestyle, and seems to be very happy.

As for your brother-in-law, he should probably mind his pints and quarts.

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