Ah yes that has been the refrain in recent years from anyone over 30 speaking about anyone under 30 every time a teen, young adult does something “outlandish,” creates a buzz worthy headline especially those involving a new, they see it as an abusive, use of the legal system. While we are no stranger to young persons finding new ways to shock us, inherently exhibiting more hubris, pushing limits that should not be pushed, whether it was the brutal school bus beating, the torment of a middle school bus monitor, right down to the Steubenville rape case, older, so called “productive,” Americans are both applauded and quick to say how much the current crop of young people learn too late actions have consequences. Pointing out how inclined they are to believe the privileges they have been granted, given, fortunate enough to access by virtue of their parents’ sacrifices, planning are suddenly rights due them, without any responsibility on their part. Whether it’s just how unprepared they are for real life demonstrated in their increasing tendency to sue their college institutions for the supposed lack of jobs in their field, lack of information on the true job landscape for their career field or actually trying to, oh the horror, divorce their undeniably unfit, utterly incapable parents, the problem is every news story involving a teen is a sign of an entitlement generation according to people using the phase. None more so than the most recent case surrounding one Rachel Canning, suing her parents for private high school as well as college tuition; however, amidst cries of, spoiled brat, get a job, your 18 your parents aren’t responsible for you anymore, a myriad of admonishments about following the house rules, the reasonable consequences clearly apparent for not doing so present in this case and finally the now common place adult rallying cry: entitlement generation, no one commenting, no one passing judgment on her, her parents displays any in depth thinking on the matter, shows any better problem solving skills than the characterized spoiled teen herself.
Unfortunately for those who don’t want to hear it, there are merits to bringing such a case starting with, although the judge found her for all intents and purposes emancipated, “beyond their sphere of influence;” one, there is the legal definition of those terms vs. the practical application infused into real life. What does that mean exactly, firstly, not only under New Jersey law is emancipation at 18 not automatic, particularly for young people still in high school, not only is emancipation a legal process, yet to be begun on the girl’s behalf, arguments leaning in the exact opposite direction, but neither are the parents pushing emancipation themselves, as a mechanism to teach her a lesson in respect, to show her the real world or to end their financial obligation to a child who has, according their viewpoint, made it clear she wants absolutely nothing to do with them, wants to be an adult, considered an adult, so let her legally become one. Instead they are tearfully pleading for her to come home, stating in court documents high school, college tuition, a new car; those things all come from living under our roof, suggesting they want to control her, not just set typical parental boundaries she refused to follow, put their foot down on out of control teenage rebellion. Concepts that line up with allegations centered around possible sexual abuse, claims of emotional abuse, eating disorders caused by the preceding, constant fights, chaos pretty much making home an untenable place to be. Next, no part of judge Bogaard’s ruling was a decision to emancipate the young women before him, singularly a determination ultimately denying immediate payment of high school tuition; note, she may win that on appeal. Further Ms. Canning’s petition hinges on her being kicked out of the house not voluntarily leaving, because she could no longer stand her parent’s rules, felt at 18 she didn’t need to follow them any longer; we’ve all been teenagers and at one point had fights with our parents. One or both sides begins to yell, we say things we later regret and hopefully get a chance to reconcile our issues; as likely as it is Rachel left, fed up with her parent’s restrictions, why is it utterly impossible to public eyes, even exceedingly probable, heated words were exchanged, yelling began, one, perhaps both, parents yelled get out and she took them seriously? Upon realizing she wasn’t just cooling her heals, out walking to clear her head, spending the night at a friend’s, her boyfriend’s, waiting for things to blow over, sure to return when she needs clean laundry, a ride somewhere, they are shocked, franticly calling, pleading with her to come home. Her driven by fear based on their behavior towards her, objects thrown, threats made, says no, her, come to the end of her rope regarding instability at home says no, her snapping after years of excessive control, snapping after years of alluded to abuse, says no, constituting the abandonment also alleged within court documents. Another increasingly sinister, pointing to all is not right in suburbia scenario, they fight, she leaves, they see it as perfect opportunity to wash their hands of a situation they decided was too difficult to deal with, still classified as abandonment. Secondly how is she not still very much under their influence if they are, in essence, holding hostage her education, simply because she has typical teenage problems regarding curfews, chores and a boyfriend they ordered her to dump or face, not just discontinued financial support, tuition, but get out of their home, a gauntlet any family therapist would say, absent major criminal behavior on the part of one or both teens, shouldn’t be thrown. Valid points considering she remains designated a minor who thus cannot withdraw enrollment from one school and gain enrollment in another alone, regulations underscored by New Jersey’s emancipation parameters.
Interestingly enough outside her parent’s physical grasp, outside her parent’s physical residence she seems to exhibit exactly zero problems going to school, doing work, maintains her honor roll and athletic pursuits; has had no recurrences involving cited drinking, truancy that reportedly got her suspended from school, was included in court information about broken house rules explaining their stance. Facts that have been Rachel’s status quo all 5 months since circumstances separated her from her parents, calling into question the validity of their actions, motivations behind the rules they truthfully set in their home vs. details given via legal filings. Contrasted alongside her parent’s reactions/behavior, her school is allowing her to stay on despite non-payment; paraphrasing a commenter remarking on everyone supporting Rachel but her parents, it’s like they see her acting out, bad behavior as a direct result to the turmoil going on at home. To be clear also suspicions she was drunk leading to her school suspension were just that, suspicions, nothing ever proven; could listed truancy stem from mentioned elevated conflict at home, were they providing transportation rescinded due to her suspension, a fight and she was considered truant arriving significantly late to school, skipped because she was too embarrassed to explain why she was late? It certainly paints a different picture doesn’t it; hardly new is girl meets boy, “bad boy” and starts making bad decisions, a tale as old as time. It is an equal possibility boyfriend showed her a functional life; her friend’s family showed her a functional family dynamic. Honestly that stacks up better to news story comments saying she doesn’t fit the profile of dysfunction often manifested in troubled/ bratty teens if she can hold to honor roll, sports teams; because, perhaps she isn’t bratty, more troubled by her parents problems than her own demons, trying to forge a way forward. And, daddy being a retired police chief, purported pillar of his community couldn’t have effected child services seemingly haphazard, cursory investigation substantiating she’s a “spoiled brat;” could it? Though over and over those with friends, connections in their local police department know exactly how far to push the boundaries, how to work the system hiding anything they wish not to be found. Child services who was called by the school not solely after hearing a teens sociopathic, well-crafted web of lies and deceit, not singularly under a combination of their federal mandate to report potential abuse and helicopter defacto parenting damn near incasing students under their care in bubble wrap we currently see in almost every school nationwide, but rather a culmination of, yes her allegations, added to “difficult meetings,” plural with the Canning’s themselves. Child services who has never made a mistake, never made an assumption based on citizens who look like the all American family, uh-huh. Makes you wonder what the neighbors, too polite to speak to news media about a nice family really know, really could tell us; after all it’s not a mass shooting so they feel no obligation to speak out, “needlessly” speak ill of “fine community members.” Highlighting an equally important set of questions, why we are so quick to write off assertions of emotional, even sexual abuse favoring to call her horrible names, accuse her of being entitled, why we take all her parents’ statements at face value and none of hers, when, there are two sides to every story; indeed the truth falling somewhere in the middle.
Looking at purely legal aspects of our “ornery teen’s” case, sidestepping for a moment if the lawyer fronting court costs is a shyster, ambulance chaser using a confused young girl, guilty of ethics violations largely seen as instigating a completely frivolous lawsuit giving out terrible legal advice, opposed to prodding her to do the right thing for her teenage years, her future and go home; again I’m struck, we should all be struck, by what she doesn’t want, what she’s not asking be simply given to her. She could care less about the car, new or old, she is requesting payment of an existing high school tuition bill, access to the college fund set aside for her upon high school graduation, set to commence on schedule; she didn’t just, out of the blue, demand they pay for her postsecondary schooling on a whim, try to see what she could get out of her parents, instead is seeking something always meant to be hers. Allotments for living expenses, never mind the figure there in, might not have even been her idea rather her lawyers, same with legal fees; plus, was it done similar to tactics utilized in civil suites, where amounts start high aiming for half, a fraction of what was originally asked? Was she planning to use it to pay rent where she is staying, because she can focus on school, graduate, secure her college future going forward or she can get a job; oh how passé in a land glorifying single parents working 5 jobs, attending school fulltime, spending 4-8 years in a perpetual state of walking pneumonia while trying to get educated, get a living wage job and us calling it making it, calling it the price due for middle class living, holding it up as something to emulate. Was the money’s intention to reimburse her friend’s family, a thank you for putting her up; continuing, god forbid a lawyer see something they believe is wrong and seek to change it. God forbid a lawyer see a situation where people are detrimental to the human being they brought into this world, and demand compensation from those people for having to handle their problem in a better way than they could for the human being caught in the middle. Was the requested allotment supposed to continue after college or only the remainder of the school year, the summer between high school and college; the former implies brat, the latter implies the request is commiserate with the situation her parents created. Nor is it especially easy to transfer high schools, per reasons mentioned above, an option it must be pointed out, her parents had all along; if her attending that prestigious school was predicated on good behavior, why not remove her to her district’s public high school, an upscale public, fee free high school on par with their matching affluent neighborhood? Further, answering the commenting multitude, students cannot transfer, enroll in school without the following shot records, former school’s transcripts, identifying documents, birth certificate, social security card, permanent address. Major headaches visited upon school districts during the great recession leaving many displaced kids with relatives, parents, legal guardians nowhere to be found and children still needing to be enrolled. While the McKinney–Vento act created in the 1980’s outlines criteria classifying homeless students, guidelines to their enrollment, getting schools to cooperate is an issue in 2014 demonstrated in the clip below; however, displaced students without identifying documents appears to be another problem altogether.
Relating to the Canning’s, she is definitely under their sphere of influence if they are hording these documents as leverage to get her to return home, saying they only way she can retrieve them is to return home, information story followers don’t possess since only a clip of judge Bogaard’s ruling was broadcast on major news outlets; we simultaneously aren’t aware if the judge had the good sense to ask if she had those identifying documents, set up a way they could be retrieved from her estranged parents. Subsequently, oral agreements, oral contacts matter; Lisa Kudrow just lost a multi-million dollar lawsuit based exactly on that legal fact; she owed her agent money congruent to the income she gained during the show Friends, A- because he helped her obtain the gig and B- had a verbal agreement to pay him a percentage of all earning from jobs obtained during their working relationship, yet when they parted ways Kudrow denied owing him a dime. Now said talent agent was doubtlessly awarded monies due to who was being sued, the fact it was a famous individual seen as trying to stiff the little guy, the person who became instrumental in them achieving acclaimed success; but there lies, barely ink-dry precedent, housing the crux of the argument mandating her parents at least pay Rachel Canning’s remaining high school tuition. Less hanging on the reasoning it will allow her to graduate with her friends, future employment network, finish high school at the same school she began her senior year, possibly having gone to the whole of her high school career, former components potentially effecting pending college scholarships, and heavily determined on who’s idea was it to send her to a private, religious high school; hers or theirs. Because the story we are not getting is that they placed her in expensive schooling, requiring thousands in fees owing to her inability to cut it in public school without constantly being in trouble, repeated run in’s with the law, expulsion, but rather private school was a chosen path they carved out for her. Key too is that she walked into high school secure in the knowledge of aforementioned agreement, quite understandably choosing classes, career path on that premise; similarly, it is too late in her k-12 career to rearrange classes taken to maximize college scholarship opportunities until now she didn’t know she needed. Never mind it is the carrot they used to get her to swallow the stick of why she should get good grades, demanding straight A’s, picking her classes for college readiness, whatever strictures they lay down in regards to education. Lastly here, oral contracts should matter all the more when it’s your parents, when it solidifies your faith in the world, when it’s about something as important as education.
College tuition may be too far a stretch to most who believe they are watching another drama instigated by an “entitled brat; then again, nothing is ever that simple. Parents, families, individuals who have been through the college application, grant/loan process know, for instance, under federal financial aid guidelines you are deemed a dependent student until age 24 sans who you live with, if you’re paying all your own way; meaning, parental income influences grant allotments, even some scholarships. The more your parents make, the more they are expected to contribute, the less goes to the student; Rachel being their oldest, they haven’t encountered this yet. Supporting evidence it’s about control vs. parents’ right, ability to establish rules, limits, how adults to decide use their money, a person’s right to change their mind, her father’s outright rejection of what he told CBS News was the premise, equating them currently paying for her college to going on a shopping spree and sending someone else the bill. Leaving most scratching their heads, they wanted her to stay home during college too, odd much; if the agreement mandated she stay home avoiding room/board fees, living expenses, owing to they are not rich, would prefer their money purchase tuition, books, class supplies, say so. Except he’s not, coinciding with they are not withholding her college fund because she failed to achieve previously agreed upon academic standards, goofed off senior year and flunked out, got arrested making her ineligible for grants, thus voiding previously pending scholarships, her court case doesn’t even seem to have done that, didn’t make the grades needed to go to college and wants the money to travel, ‘start a life’ or some ambiguous goal not education. They aren’t barring her from her designated college fund because she abruptly changed intended majors from an area carrying reasonable certainty of a job to performing arts, visual arts personified by lesbian dance theory, Peruvian bongo drums, cultural classes in ‘The Beatles’ and ‘Beyoncé,’ suddenly altered career plans to attend the same school as her boyfriend; most would think they would be ecstatic to pay in order to get her away from his “bad influence.” And, her college fund hasn’t been diverted to cover a family member’s rare disease, cancer treatment, isn’t paying their mortgage, keeping a roof over younger sibling’s heads due to job loss, on the job injury, to cover natural disaster repairs, rebuilding. Hello, their argument isn’t even recent events cause us to question our daughters sanity, we think she may have deeper mental health issues than originally thought; we worry about our return on investment, her ability to focus, avoid temptations if she goes away to school. Their argument consists of you left, we may very well have made home an untellable place to live, still you left, we’re done, oh but please come home; talk about complete non- sequitur nonsense.
Are we really surprised a middle aged, white, judge, old enough to be the father of teenagers himself, quickly sided with the parents of an “unruly” teen; are we surprised a child services division, an entity known for getting it wrong, known for over medicating kids on powerful drugs, known for letting kids die in their custody, on their watch found no abuse? Sadly in an era where judges deciding much more serious cases can find men not guilty of rape due to the difficulty in removing skinny jeans, can sentence men convicted of the horrific crime of rape to a diversionary program not jail, a female judge can rule so called up-skirt photos legal because the unsuspecting women aren’t totally nude, that this judge spent most of his ruling summation ranting about an expletive laced voicemail left by Rachel Canning to her parents and how disrespectful, ungrateful that was; forget what provoked it, forget you don’t deserve respect just because you turn 18, 21, reach middle age or become a parent. You deserve respect based on how you comport yourself; and no matter whose side you eventually cone down on, you can’t accuse these parents of comporting themselves well. On the most popular side, had they done so they would not be facing the lawsuit of their entitled brat; on the other side, had they not inflicted devastating emotional, despicable sexual abuse their teen daughter would be living with them, there would be happy memories preparing for college and we wouldn’t know their names. Judge Bogaard had the opportunity to follow the spirit of New Jersey’s laws on emancipation simultaneously erring on the side of caution acknowledging what no one can know about what went on in that home, demand her parents pay the outstanding tuition bill to her high school, release the college fund already promised to her, option to have a conservator appointed, put it in a trust ensuring it is used for college not booze, drugs, high end shopping, perhaps instituting a cut off from when she left home 5 months ago. Denying the $600 plus weekly child support geared toward living expenses, putting in a dose tough love, combatting bratty tendencies, supposedly displayed, telling her to get a job, rejecting reimbursement of legal fees owing to she is not the one putting up the money or issuing a direct judgment of X dollars go to the man who provided those fees. Since this is family court he had within his discretion the ability to mandate counseling toward the reconciliation he wanted; again being family court, he had the choice to say judgment awarded, you made this mess clean it up and get it off my docket. Speaking of which, where are all the detractors saying award it to her as a deterrent with the admonishment, “you don’t want to be held responsible parents, stop raising “afluenza” kids; and if you don’t, here will be your consequences.” Contrary to the negative precedent he attempted to avoid setting by not awarding this audacious child anything, is the precedent he actually set; I can make home a particularly emotionally untenable, miserable place to be, drive my high school teen purposefully out of the house and no longer be responsible for them. Astute people willing to mount the rare opinion piece defense of Rachel justly argue: “the reality is that people who detach from relationships ask for money from the people that they are leaving all the time. Plenty of childless marriages that end in divorce involve demands for alimony, and those marriages are relationships entered into by fully functional and aware adults- not relationships that a child is born into. And we don’t automatically laugh these people out of the courtroom. So if divorced people without kids can sue each other for the money their partner would have provided for them in the marriage, why the hell can’t Rachel Canning sue her parents for the money they would have given her for college if only she’d stayed with them?” An even more apt question adding in the truth about financial aid; if they can demand a family contribute X based on earnings, why can’t a court judge? Better option, find out what her FAFSA student aid award letter states, what they consider the family’s portion and fashion your judgment accordingly.
Sure college is a privilege not a right by definition, but we have to get out of this mindset that makes it any less a necessity over an option, any less a mandated requirement over a take it or leave it advantage, a wise investment for students and parents. And maybe suing your colligate institution was once upon a time the province of coddled children who had everything handed to them mystified the world wouldn’t do the same, degree or no degree. It may have been the laughing stock circa 2008 when nobody had a job that a mediocre IT student dared sue her college, not today; today law students suing their college got the attention of CBS news in light of blatantly false advertising, on top of undercover exposés done surrounding strictly for profit colleges lying to perspective students about career choices in criminal justice no longer available to them because of their criminal record among other school transgressions, most recently shifting military service members toward worthless degrees to get bodies in seats and dollars in their pockets. Then there is by what definition you distinguish right and privilege in the discussed context; federal student aid, a number of scholarships, student loan programs were designed specifically to give more kids access to higher education, to make higher education open to everyone, not the sole province of the rich, those lucky enough to afford it. Also to be rejected the idea Rachel Canning came around to suing her parents based on her coddled, no consequences lifestyle, upbringing in the modern era of entitlement vs. perhaps, just perhaps, getting it from adults calling 911 over uncooked waffles, missing Jell-O, incorrect fast food orders, refusals of marriage, the 72 year old man requesting his wife participate in group sex, a man’s wife looking at his Facebook page, a broken i-phone; remarkable is how many of these have gray hair. Road rage fists fights by two gray headed men in business suites, teens calling 911 because their now drunk parent is weaving all over the road after too many cocktails at lunch; these are the examples of “adult” behavior and we think she got the idea from being spoiled? Let’s remember too the first ever Twinkie defense was the Harvey Milk murder trial in the 1970’s where the suspects legal defense argued copious consumption of Twinkies and depression led him to do what he did; followed closely by the prisoners suing over peanut butter, McDonald’s made me fat, gay panic leads to assault, murder, all defenses crafted by and for adults not children, teens. The truly entitled people are the Michael Dunn’s, Curtis Reeves, George Zimmerman’s who believe they have the right to shoot people, end their life over loud music, annoying texting and who they think belongs in their neighborhood, or the latest elderly couple suspected of killing an Aspen woman after she had to return from Australia to handle their non-payment of rent, utilities in the home they were renting from her. Finally Judge Bogaard had little to fear he was opening the door to teens, tween suing their parents over X boxes, i-phones, even expensive sneakers, because that was never the purpose of Rachel Canning’s lawsuit; the purpose of her lawsuit was to obtain the funds abruptly cut off for arbitrary reasons in order to complete her education thereby gaining a chance at adult independence.
Bonus material: read below two defense perspectives of Rachel