Have The Backbone To Say No

Michelle's daughter says she'll take out student loans in order to live on campus. How does Michelle talk to her about staying out of debt and finishing college debt free?

QUESTION: Michelle in Nashville and her daughter are starting to look at colleges. Her daughter says she'll take out student loans in order to live on campus. How does Michelle talk to her about staying out of debt and finishing college debt free? Dave thinks the problem is Michelle is dealing with someone who looks like an adult but isn't.

ANSWER: The problem in this scenario is that you're not dealing with a grown-up; you're dealing with someone who looks grown up but is not completely grown up. To allow a 17-year-old to make decisions completely by herself would be bad parenting.

I think it is a huge mistake for her to go into debt just to live in a certain place. That's not about education. You can get an education, which is what's important. You can do that without debt, and we've got a way for her to do that. All she's concerned about is getting out there on her own, which I understand, and when I was 17 and 18, I wanted to be on my own, too. I get all of that, but the bottom line is she doesn't have the money, and you don't have the money for her to do that. She's not borrowing money to go to college. She's borrowing money to live in a dorm. Honestly, that's stupid.

I think truth without love is harshness. Love without truth is enabling. I am not going to give my child money and participate in a process that's going to harm them. I love them too much. "You can't have my car, and you can't have my money unless you do this in a way that I approve of. So, Big Dog, go out there and sign the forms. You'll be on your own when you do that. You will not be living here, and you will not be receiving financial support from us. If you're hungry, you can come home and I will feed you here. I always love you. You're my daughter, but I'm not going to pay for you to be stupid."

When it comes to your kids, I think you should be strong enough to not hurt them. Just because this 17-year-old is having a fit on the cereal aisle about what kind of cereal she wants, you're going to say, "Oh, well I wouldn't want to have conflict here." She's 17 years old. Translation: She's stupid! You owe it to her to guide her, and if you don't guide her forcefully, it sounds like this little rebel is going to go make some really bad decisions, and you're going to cause it if you don't stand up to it.

If you have the ability to influence a decision of your 17-year-old to keep her from harming herself and you don't because you don't want to have conflict, then your weakness is harming your child.