Dear Care and Feeding: My 16-Year-Old Wants to Drop Out of School and Move to

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter, Olivia, is 16 and has a cousin, Lila, also 16, with whom she’s always been close despite living in different states. Lila was able to take a lot of extra classes while distance- learning and is graduating from high school this June; she is moving this summer to New York for college. Olivia hasn’t been doing well at all with distance learning, even though I hired an in-person tutor for her—she failed three classes last semester and might not graduate on time next year.

Olivia has now decided, since she thinks she’s a failure at school, that she should quit school and move to New York with Lila. Lila thinks this is a great idea because she doesn’t want to live “by herself” (her college doesn’t have dorms, so she’ll be in an apartment with cohort roommates, with one room to herself). Olivia claims that a part-time job will be enough for her share of food and rent since she’ll be sharing Lila’s room.

I don’t want to send my 16-year-old across the country to live when she hasn’t even graduated from high school! Honestly, I’m not in favor of Lila going to New York at 16 either, but I understand that she is in a very different place, scholastically and mentally, than Olivia is. I’ve suggested to Olivia that she work harder at school and plan to join Lila next year, but both girls think this is a terrible idea. I’ve suggested that Olivia visit Lila once a month during the school year, since Olivia’s school has a lot of three-day weekends, and Olivia said if she went to visit once, she just wouldn’t come home! I’ve suggested that both girls talk to a school counselor or a therapist but both have refused. Anything I say to Olivia is repeated immediately to Lila, and the two of them are forever hatching plans, determined to get around me. I think I need to talk with Lila and/or her parents, although I’m not particularly close to my brother or sister-in-law. I don’t want to rain on Lila’s parade, but she needs to stop encouraging Olivia to join her next year! Can you offer any advice?

—Cousin Conundrum

Dear CC,

Sometimes you just have to say no and take the heat.

I certainly can. Tell Olivia she cannot go to New York to live with her cousin. Stop offering conciliations—stop suggesting things. Of course you don’t want to “send” her across the country. So don’t.

And don’t expect Lila to stop asking her. (For that matter, don’t tell Lila what she can or can’t do—that’s not your job.) And leave Lila’s parents out of this! Their daughter is nervous about being in New York on her own, and she’s probably nervous about starting college at 16, even if she’s “ready” (I did, and I was, and I was still nervous about it—and I didn’t travel across the country to do it). Lila will have to work that out, with or without the help of her parents. Both girls will be angry with you for not letting them have their way (a prospect that I imagine makes you miserable, which I understand is why you’re not just putting your foot down)—you will have to work that out, all by yourself. I hated that part of motherhood too, so I’m sympathetic. (I really do know how hard it is to say no to a determined teenager, especially if she’s a good kid who desperately wants to do something she is certain is a good idea, that you know is absolutely not. The handful of times I had to do it were painful.) But sometimes you just have to say no and take the heat. Olivia will get over it, I promise, just like my daughter did.

• If you missed Friday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

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After living overseas and in the Midwest for most of my adult life, my husband and I decided to move back to the area where I grew up so our children could be raised near my family. My oldest child is in kindergarten and has a fabulous teacher. There’s just one problem: She has a pronounced Southern drawl … and my…

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