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Would you encourage your child to drop out of school?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  May 31, 2010 10:23 AM

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Over Parent Dish, Ericka Lutz writes about her daughter dropping out of high school -- and how she supports her teen's decision to do so:

Parenting a teenager is all about trust. I can't force Annie to go to school, though I tried. I can't force her to want to be in school, and unless she wants to be there, she won't go. I trust my daughter's instincts, and I know that a path is not always linear. And she comes from a strong family tradition of alternate paths. It took me nine years to get my BA and I ended up with a successful and creative career. Her father didn't start community college until he was 24. By the time he died, he was the special adviser to a head of state.

I see her point, but I'm not sure I agree. There's more to high school than just academics, in my opinion: There's self discipline, perserverence, collaboration, cooperation, and basically learning how to learn. Not every child is able to gain those skills on his or her own.

In Lutz's case, her daughter may already have advantages that other teens don't -- including a parent who is willing to let her find her own way (rather than pave the path for her). That might not seem like an advantage, per se, but in the grand scheme of things, it is. "She has a job, and she's pursuing her dream of becoming a professional actor," Lutz writes. "She has to learn what she wants and needs in life, and she has to work for it herself. I will support her in whatever endeavor she chooses -- but the impetus must come from her, not from me."

Parents, what do you think? Would you support your teen's decision to drop out of high school? Why or why not?

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.

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25 comments so far...
  1. Short answer - I don't know. I think it would really depend on the specifics of the situation. I'd like to think that I'd be able to convince my child to finish high school, or at least earn their GED, but ultimately, I agree that it would have to be their decision. Regardless of the decision, they would have to deal with the consequences, and they would not be getting free room and board, etc.

    Posted by akmom June 1, 10 09:47 AM
  1. I would insist on the high school diploma if child is under 18. Beyond that, what can you do, except withhold monetary assistance? But there's nothing bad that will come of have the diploma and it will make getting into college, at whatever age, much easier. My mom had to take two years to get her GED and get into a college in her late twenties. Why waste all that time later when you realize you need more education to do anything other than bag groceries?

    If child hates high school for social reasons, she can be homeschooled, or go to summer school to graduate a year early as I did.

    Posted by momof2 June 1, 10 11:59 AM
  1. This would be a real problem with me. I have basically framed it with my kids that this is their job. Just like I go to work every day to earn a living, they are responsible for attending and completing their school work at least until high school graduation. But I think you have to put the wheels in motion at a young age. I'm there with the pom/poms or the whips to keep them going. The minute they are struggling in school I hook them up with the appropriate resources to get them back on track. Although I don't pay for grades, we, as parents, and therefore they are much happier when they are being responsible.

    Although at 16 you can't force them, I'm quite sure I could find some "incentives" to persevere until they received their highschool degree. As the poster mentioned above, some alternatives paths to it might be necessary but just "quitting" isn't OK in my book and I wouldn't support it under any circumstances.

    Posted by Jayne June 1, 10 01:42 PM
  1. I don't think that taking 9 years to get a BA is something to be proud of necessarily. Better getting it than not ever, but I am sure it took longer because there were other responsibilities (supporting oneself, family, kids) to worry about.

    Also, my FIL and MIL don't have college degrees and while they are comfortable, they recognize that the days of having a job that pays enough with just a high school degree have gone bye-bye. This student won't even have THAT. You can't go by what was okay or normal 30-40 years ago. Times have changed.

    Posted by Issybelle June 1, 10 01:55 PM
  1. No. I would not let my child drop out of high school. I think this lady is being deluded in the name of being a "cool, hip" parent.

    I don't think higher education is always the ticket, nor do I think there is anything wrong with taking a while to figure out what you want to do or how to get there. But I do think you need to graduate from high school.

    I hope her daughter is really talented, because the average "actor" makes about $9000 a year (or so I've read). I would think a failed actor without a high school diploma isn't going to do so well either.

    Posted by ash June 1, 10 02:08 PM
  1. Trusting a 16 year-old's instincts. Uh... Yeah. Sounds like this mom wants to be her teenager's trusted friend and not have to make the tough calls. A professional actress? I'm just cringing here. At a certain point, I agree that you can't force them to attend a 4-year college and do well. However, by providing emotional (and potentially financial) support to this girl to quit school, the mom is essentially taking the path of least resistance.

    Posted by JKR June 1, 10 02:10 PM
  1. This is wihout a doubt the stupidest column I have seen yet. I absolutely agree with Jayne. Whomever thinks this is OK must have the idea that allowing a child (anyone below 18) to quit school is either lazy, doesn't care about the child or both.
    If the kid doesn't seem motivated by school, find the child another school. Your the parent, do something.
    Or perhaps you'll be the proud parent of a fast food industry employee. We need more burger flippers and sub makers.

    Posted by Joe June 1, 10 02:13 PM
  1. I know too many people who are now trying to raise kids and make a living doing the types of jobs that are generally available to high-school dropouts. While there might indeed be exceptions to the rule, generally the non-high school diploma route isn't a successful one for most people and they end up doing dead-end jobs for minimum wage while their peers who choose a trade, go to college, enter the military and so on are generally more successful in life.

    Might this girl have what it takes to "make it" without a diploma? Sure, she might. Might she have a giant trust fund coming to her (from her father's death) at 18? Maybe. Is she going to blow that trust fund in three years of partying? It happens a lot, trust fund kids have a lot in common with lottery winners. There will be those who succeed wildly without diplomas, degrees and so on. There will also be plenty of those who do not.

    I would really make an effort to find some form of mentor for this your woman. Trust and instinct are great things, but without a plan, plus a pile of cash and lots of free time, things can go south very quickly. Assuming (and this is a big assumption, I admit) she will have the financial means to sustain herself, there are ways to spend that money wisely and have a great life, just as there are ways to squander it and end up broke.

    Posted by J June 1, 10 02:54 PM
  1. If I look at the situation from a totally different perspective, this kids has already made an idiotic dropping out of high school, she did not leverage two great resources already available to her:
    - Free education
    - Free room and board
    How can I trust her instinct? Plus there is a risk of hormones mixing up with freedom to create a recipe for disaster... and potential for running 3 lives or more....
    You see school provides more than education, it provides structure, purpose, eats up free time and allow you to struggle with kids your own age who can relate to you and you to them.
    I am practical and believe that life does not provide all with unlimited opportunities, you can assume today’s assumptions will be true tomorrow…

    Posted by Paul June 1, 10 04:22 PM
  1. I agree with Jayne. That is the way I was brought up as well and that's how I expect to raise my family as well. My parents' job was to work to provide for the family and my job was to study to complete my education going through college. --There will be plenty of time to "searching and researching" after my husband and I are done parenting. After they have their degree(s) and they have done their "studying" job... then they'll be free to "explore". We won't be around forever so we want to make sure they'll have something to fall back on.

    Posted by rmg June 1, 10 05:00 PM
  1. I agree with most of the posters. This mother is not acting like a parent. I had several kids and every one of them finished high school. All except one have finished college, and the last one just has a few more courses until she is done. My kids knew what we expected of them, and they did it. All are homeowners, and capable of supporting themselves and their families, male and female. Mom needs to stop being a friend and become a parent with rules and expectations. Daughter will thank her later.

    Posted by patches02 June 1, 10 05:05 PM
  1. The child is an actor. It is too bad that the U.S. doesn't have the extensive network of theatre schools that Europe has for those who want to enter the field with just a couple of years of training. And even those schools have begun affiliation with universities at the equivalent of a BA or AA level.

    But she could also try the modeling route, as a stepping-stone to the theatre. Still, she would be in some kind of program for modeling, too, if at her agency's behest.

    I hope the Mom is encouraging her daughter to read, read, read - the greats. For if the daughter is bound and determine to engage upon a theatrical career without a school guiding her, she will have to have a lot of self-discipline and keep up with the Classics; Shakespeare; the Russians; 20th century American drama; fiction from the 17th century to the present. She will, in essence, still have to be a student, but books will be her teachers.

    Which is not to say it can't be done. Look at these younger Americans pursuing the stage:

    Posted by reindeergirl June 1, 10 05:42 PM
  1. ding...ding...ding....

    The operative sentence is "unless she wants to be there, she won't go."

    Well, of course, if there are no consequences for not going. Duh!

    The child should stay in school, be active in the Drama department and other arts classes, and get her diploma.

    I never heard of an actor who hasn't pursued drama school, acting classes, etc. I've also never heard of an actor who hasn't had to wait tables or punch a cash register at some point. Try getting even one of THOSE jobs without a H.S. diploma.

    This mother is a wicked loser!

    Posted by Just-Cos June 1, 10 06:48 PM
  1. I also come from a family of people who took a non-linear path through life. As my mom puts it, "Some people just aren't meant to go through life the easy way, or the right way." I can understand how hard it could be for a parent to watch their child struggle, but I also understand how her daughter must feel. In high school I dealt with a lot of the same issues that this young woman did, on a much smaller scale. It's hard, not in the "Life is hard" way, but in a way that is full of pain and judgement. As an educator in special education, I have learned that sometimes we just need to trust parents to know what is right for their children, and do so without passing judgement on them. Every child is different. I say bravo to this family for being brave enough to make the unpopular choice that was right for them.

    Posted by wkh June 1, 10 07:04 PM
  1. She already has a goal--something many, many high schoolers don't have-- and is working towards it and is supporting it financially as best she can. I say go for it. Better than suppressing her true goals for an artificial one. If for whatever reason she wants to go to college later, she probably won't have a problem with her unique early life trajectory and experience earned as a working actress.

    Posted by steve in w ma June 1, 10 07:44 PM
  1. Hi All,
    My drug-free, responsible son also wanted to drop out of school in the fall of his junior year. Thanks to his high school counselor, we found that he could attend the remaining 2 years of HS at our local community college. We had to pay for the courses ourselves and he took what he needed to complete his HS credits while earning college credits. He got a diploma from our town HS and had a start toward his associates degree. He had a job and had to take 2 buses plus a long walk to do it. He went on to a 4 year college and then went to graduate school. He was just sick of the immaturity of the HS environment and treatment by his HS teachers. Think of the bullying in the news lately. He wasn't bullied but saw the culture!


    Posted by 29andcounting June 1, 10 08:13 PM
  1. I agree with poster #16. The educational environment that a teenager attends can really make a difference in attitude. Best of luck

    Posted by JoAnne June 2, 10 06:56 AM
  1. If the kid has a plan and is actually doing something then it may work. Being out in the world may be the best thing for this kid and may encourage her to get more education. Regarding "the kid will go to school or else!" sure, you can drag your child to the front door of the school, sit with them during class and drive them straight home after school but if they do not want to be there then forcing does them no good at all. They are likely to flunk out or do the bare minimum until they graduate and that is not going to do good things for their college prospects.
    High school classrooms not the only learning environment.

    #13- My public high school didn't have drama (or music) at all- lost to budget cuts several years before I got there. So your idea is not going to work for everyone.
    #2- no summer school except for failing students so no getting ahead either- budget cuts

    We don't know this kid's exact situation but I assume the decision was not made lightly.

    Posted by Stephanie June 2, 10 07:13 AM
  1. The title of the question posed is "encourage your child to drop out". What kind of question is that? Who actually encourages their child to drop out? The better question would be "would you support"? And by supporting that means following through with what needs to happen after dropping out. Are you capable of handling the extra work (and probably time and money) to ensure that your child is still maturing and achieving outside of a school environment - which has trained professionals to do just that?

    Posted by Stay-in-school June 2, 10 08:43 AM
  1. Rereading the article when I was more awake the girl HAD earned her high school equivalency certificate so she is not a dropout after all. She just finished early. She will have the same opportunities for further education as everyone else if she chooses.
    Would people be jumping down the parent's throat if the kid had stayed in school until 18 and then did a gap year doing exactly what she is doing with acting classes, part time work and hanging with friends? I didn't think so. If she is doing her gap year a few years early and figuring out her path then so what?

    Posted by Stephanie June 2, 10 08:55 AM
  1. Good luck to this kid being raised by a mother who is so clueless as to allow her child to make such a life altering decision.

    I practically dragged my son who is not a traditional learner by any means, through school and even though he hated it, he now looks back and remembers the good times he had a lot more than the bad.

    A high school education these days will get the average person a job at low pay, but it is an essential building block for any future learning. This woman is making a serious mistake by trusting the 'instincts' of a 16 year old girl. I was a 16 year old girl once and I can tell you, my 'instincts' as good as they were, were not fully developed at that age.

    Posted by RPS123 June 2, 10 09:12 AM
  1. As a GED holder myself who now has a successful career (thanks to the military and the opportunities it afforded me), this is a tough call.

    I took a VERY non-linear path in my life when I left my parents' home at age 15.5. Yet somehow, with their guidance to that point in my life, their continued love and support, I never ended up a statistic and those years I held menial jobs for minimum wage were, in fact, those last few years of my teenage-hood. Each job I took was better than the last...

    I should also note that I did not intend to drop out, but after several schools rejected me citing having no legal guardian within a certain mile-radius...and THEN being told by Malden High that I would have to re-accomplish my already (successfully) completed sophomore year, well, the pressure of paying bills was mounting and I already couldn't relate to those my own age.

    So, I got my GED instead of my diploma.

    I hope that my own daughter chooses differently, but in the end, my parents had no "choice". I did what I wanted in spite of them (I am NOT proud to say that, but it's the absolute truth) and believe me, they never tried to be my friend, nor did they let me run wild. I simply...did.

    Things like this are not always in the best of parents' control, and many of the judgemental parents commenting here could do well to take themselves down a peg before their kids do it for them.

    I ask my mom for forgiveness every day, believe me. Don't delude yourselves either lest you find that someday, your own child looks at the greys on your head with the same sense of guilt.

    Posted by Phe June 2, 10 01:17 PM
  1. This is very foolish. Everyone needs at a high school diploma, no matter what kind of work they want to do. Successful people who make it via an alternate route are rare enough to be newsworthy.

    And as far as internal motivation goes, well, I'm not terribly motivated to pay my taxes every year. I just do it because I have to. This kid should finish high school for the same reason. She won't regret her diploma, but eventually, she will regret not having one.

    Posted by Ashley June 3, 10 08:44 AM
  1. Ashley: I guess you can call the Globe and let them know I'm newsworthy then. The reality of today's world is this: It requires a master's or higher to make any real "success" in many fields - and those can be obtained with out a HS diploma in hand.

    But it is entirely possible to be successful with a mere GED provided you are willing to do the work otherwise. This woman's daughter already has her GED and she's got family support.

    Posted by Phe June 3, 10 11:37 AM
  1. I went to an Ivy League university with a woman who had no HS diploma - she had her GED instead. She graduated from college, and as far as I know, is doing well. I know plenty of kids who have HS diplomas who can't get themselves motivated to get a job or attend college. So finishing high school is not necessarily any magic bullet. Would I encourage my kid to stay in school? Most likely. However, I can imagine scenarios where I would support their decision to drop out, too. It's not black and white.

    Posted by akmom June 4, 10 07:01 AM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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