One parent wonders if her dependent and scatter-brained child will succeed on her own in college.


Q. Maybe I'm overreacting, but my 17-year-old is supposed to go away to college in the fall, and, well, I'm not so sure she'll be able to make it on her own. She's a bit scatterbrained. Just getting her applications in on time was a chore! I worry about her being able to make meals, pay bills, and get to classes on time, all without any assistance. Do you think there's any harm in suggesting a local community college instead?

A. No doubt you're not the only parent sending a young adult off to college with concerns relating to absentmindedness. With Mom and Dad around to remind a child of her responsibilities, she has no need to be on top of everyday tasks. After a few missed meals, late fees for unpaid bills, and late entrances into class, your daughter will likely remedy her ways.

There's no need to suggest attending a local community college now. She'll probably learn, once she's suffered the consequences of her empty-headedness, to manage her life just fine. If she fails because of this personality trait, then it will be time to recommend community college.

Teaching Independence

By suggesting she attend community college now, you communicate that she's doomed to dependency on Mom and Dad. By saying, "I'm confident you have everything necessary to succeed," you pave a path for success. She's obviously interested in going away to college; she needs the opportunity to prove that she can succeed on her own.

That being said:

  • Do not call to remind her that she needs to go to dinner.
  • Do not give her wake-up calls with the idea that she needs you to do so in order for her to get to class on time. Do not send an e-mail reminding her to pay her mobile phone bill.

It's time to let go of her dependence on you.

She may flounder a tad but most likely she'll determine how to manage these responsibilities by watching her friends take care of these tasks and then follow their lead.

Tough Love

Let's say your daughter fails to pay her tuition on time and then a $75.00 late fee is attached to her tuition. What are you going to do?

A) Scold her?B) Give her the money?C) Allow her to live with the consequences, which means she'll have $75.00 less for personal expenses the next semester?

You'll do best by your daughter if your answer is "C." The most you can do is empathize by saying, "That's really too bad" or "What are you going to do next semester to avoid paying the late fee?"

Growing Up and Letting Go

It's time for you to do a little soul-searching. Ask yourself, "Have I been doing anything to perpetuate my child's propensity towards being scatterbrained?" If you can see yourself as enabling this personality trait then it's time to back off, let go, and allow your child to grasp hold of the reins of her life. Some parents find purpose in managing their children's lives while inadvertently creating a seemingly scatterbrained, empty-headed, and absentminded child and then young adult.

No doubt sending a child off to college leaves a hole in any parent's heart. You'd do better by your child to let her go off to college and flounder than keep her at home attending community college and perpetuating her dependency on you. She needs this opportunity to figure out life's tasks without you. The likelihood is great that she'll succeed and you'll find another activity to fill your time. When she finds success -- which will likely be the case -- be sure to congratulate her.

Jan Faull, MEd, is a veteran parent educator and the author of four parenting books, including Darn Good Advice -- Baby and Darn Good Advice -- Parenting. She writes a biweekly parenting advice column for this site and a weekly parenting advice column in the Seattle Times. Jan Faull is the mother of three grown children and lives in the Seattle area.

Originally published on, July 2006.

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