Dear Dr. Wes and Miranda: My son is a senior in high school, with one semester left, and he’s on the verge of quitting. He’s never liked school, does not study and has failed several classes, although he is very bright. Attendance this past semester has been spotty. He wants to quit, work full-time and get his GED. He still thinks he will go to college, either at Kansas University or a community college. I looked through all your past articles on Double Take, hoping to find this covered. I would so appreciate you guys discussing this — the sooner the better. Thanks!
Miranda: Dropping out is bad. It looks bad to future employers and to colleges. Getting a GED won’t make the situation much better. If your son can finish high school, he should.
When we were younger, high school was built up as “the time of our lives.” Unless you’re one of the “chosen few,” that just isn’t the case. For most of us it’s a time of adolescent struggle, intense homework and growing up. By no means should you let your time there define who you are as a person, and that’s exactly what your son is doing right now.
High school is sort of a test for life. No, adulthood will not include decorated lockers, homecoming and a football team, but high school shows you how to deal with difficult people and situations. During my time there, I’ve had my share of unfair teachers and mean peers, and those will eventually give way to unfair bosses and mean co-workers, which are common in any workplace. So explain to your son that running away from high school will not solve his problems.
Here’s another little pessimistic secret: No one really wants to be at school. It’s hardest for seniors, who, on the verge of adulthood, feel they’ve outgrown the confines of high school and are ready to move on. Remind your son that one last, measly semester does not compare to the three and a half years he’s invested in his diploma.
While he may not care about it now, graduation provides closure, no matter what high school experience he had. It is a milestone that means he is one step closer to a better phase of his life. He will regret it if he cheats himself out of that special day.
Dr. Wes: Miranda is right — but graduation provides a lot more than closure. It provides an education. Or it should.
I’m confronted several times a semester with this problem, which is why I’m surprised we’ve never gotten a letter like this before. I commend you for raising the issue.
For the most part, high school is not fun. It doesn’t compete well with Xbox or “World of Warcraft.” It’s a long, hard slog, and as adults, we often forget that most of the time we spent there was a job, not recreation. Your son needs you to be very clear with him about that now.
Far worse is the fact that he’s about to march headlong into the worst job market in my lifetime, particularly for teens. The last thing he (or you) need is for him to face life with a GED. He’s going to be competing with college graduates for jobs in fast food, and you can guess which way the manager is going to look if he gets his choice. A high school dropout just can’t compete.
Moreover, your son is kidding himself if he thinks that his poor high school performance will allow him to survive even a semester at a state university, regardless of how bright he is. He’s got a shot at community college, but he’s going to be retaking every course he bombed since freshman year, and some may not even count for credit.
Should he try? Absolutely, as long as he’s more dedicated to college than he has been to high school.
If your son can find and keep a job and he’s willing to pay a good portion of his expenses while living at home, then give him a year or two to think this through before he enrolls. A lot of money is wasted each semester on tuition for kids who aren’t ready or willing to do the work. It’s better to hold that dough in reserve and send him when he’s got the fire in his belly. A couple years working drive-thru will help.
Please clip this column and leave it by his breakfast plate. You can underline this closing: The short-term joy of dropping out in your senior year will be purchased over a lifetime of lower wages and poor job prospects. Fight your way to the finish line. It’s closer than you think.