May 012017


Dear Janet,

I am at a loss.  I just found out my college junior son dropped most of his classes for the semester due to failing grades.  He dropped three classes two semesters ago for the same reason.  I don’t think the reason is drugs or alcohol.  I think there has been too much social activity and not enough study activity though.

My husband warned him last year he would not continue to pay for tuition and living arrangements if he did not put the work in and take his classes seriously.  Now, with the news our son has dropped all of his classes except one this semester, my husband has informed him he will not be paying for any more.

I don’t think our son believes him yet, but I do.  I understand my husband’s feelings, and I do want to support his ‘tough love’ position.  Yet, I want my son to continue his education without interruption.  I’m afraid he won’t go back if he takes six months to a year off.

Should I have a ‘you’re going to have to get a job’ talk with him for the upcoming semester?  I don’t want him to have to take time off, but maybe that is what is needed for him to take the situation seriously and learn adult responsibility more directly.

I know he won’t qualify for any scholarships, and I know our income is too high for him to qualify for grants or assistance.   Is there another way, short of him leaving school, to handle this?  Your advice is appreciated.

Tracey in Florida

Dear Tracey,

It sounds like you want him to finish college, you don’t want him to take a break, you are afraid he will not go back if he has to take a break, and you are afraid he can’t pay.  It sounds like you want all this more than he does.

When my son started community college he was living at home and slept in every morning missing his math class.  He was 19 and I was not about to act like his mother and wake him up each morning.  When I saw him in the evening, I would ask him how the math class went.  When he said he overslept, I just said “Oh.”  I wanted him to know I knew, and I was not going to lecture him.  I treated him like an adult whom could manage his own life.

Eventually, he dropped the class.  The next semester he did the same thing; he overslept and didn’t make it to his math class.  It was so painful to watch.  Again, he dropped the class before getting a fail.  I told him I was disappointed he quit as I did not teach him to quit.   He did it again the third semester!  I could not believe it, yet I was determined not to intervene.

After the first week of missing class, he started getting up and completed the course.  He never missed another day.  In the end, he got a D for a grade, so he had to take it again!

When he showed me his report card, I told him I was proud of his D in math. “How can you be proud of a D,” he asked.  “Because you didn’t quit,” I replied.  “Now you know how much work it takes to get a D, and you can decide how much more work you want to give to receive an A, B, or C.”

There is definitely something going on with your son if he is dropping classes.  Something changed recently if he made it through the first two years successfully.  The first two years are usually when new students have a hard time balancing the freedom and responsibility of college life.

It would be nice if you could have a heart to heart talk and find out what is really going on.  It could be substance abuse, a girlfriend who dumped him, depression, anxiety or 50 other things.  If he won’t talk to you, would he agree to seek a counselor who would be confidential?

If you are not able to have that talk successfully and solve the real problem, then I would ask your husband if he would agree to reimburse your son after he completes each semester successfully.

It is time to let him become responsible for his choices.  We always appreciate and value something more if we have skin in the game.  Unfortunately, your son may have to learn his lessons the hard way at times.  Some people do.

I wish you the best, Janet

Janet Schlegel is the Owner and Founder of Soul Work Counseling in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She specializes in trauma and relationship issues.WebsiteFacebookLinkedIn

Photo Credit – Olichel