Many of today’s young people want to make the world a better place. For some, this may take priority over finishing college, usually against their parents’ wishes. The result can be a three-way tangle of frustration, hurt, anger, and worry. You may find yourself dealing with a variety of reactions, including. “Our daughter, a dropout! What will our friends think?” or “What if our beloved son never returns for a college degree and ends up flipping burgers all his life?”, or “What ingratitude, after all we’ve sacrificed to pay for college!”

In a situation like this, I would suggest meeting with the would-be dropout first. Once you explore his reasons for leaving school and feelings about coming back to finish, you’ll be better able to advise your clients on a response. You may need to reassure them with accounts of young people who dropped out of college to do activist work and then returned with a greater sense of purpose. Try to help them move beyond self-centered reactions to consider their child’s needs. One of the hardest life lessons for parents is realizing that their children are on their own path.