Parents: standing back, stepping in with a bright student

Some proud parents with gifted children might decide in a flash to send their young Einstein to college a year or two early. Why not? After all, he or she is smart enough.

That's not good enough for Patricia Hoge. When Mrs. Hoge's 16-year-old son Jeremy announced one day last year that he wanted to use the state's dual-enrollment plan to attend the University of Minnesota - not in two years after graduating from high school, but right away - it was not excitement but concern his mother felt first.

"We worried whether Jeremy was giving up time he would never recapture," she says in a phone interview. "His maturity level has always been a couple of years ahead. He fits in much better with young adults than kids his own age. Our concern was, could he handle the emotional stress. We knew he qualified academically."

So instead of rushing right over to the university to help him enroll, Patricia and her husband Richard told Jeremy that if he was serious he would have to do his entire enrollment by himself - all the necessary paperwork and whatever else was required. That was Step 1.

"A child has to understand that he has to be his own advocate," she says, "and that unlike high school, Mom and Dad aren't going to be as welcome a voice once he gets on campus if he has problems."

Jeremy did it all "in fine form," she says, indicating that he had some understanding of his own responsibility.

Still, the Hoges tracked Jeremy's progress closely. Within weeks, they realized there was a problem. Their son was carrying 14 college-credit hours - 12 is full load. In addition he was taking two early morning classes at his high school and working 20 hours a week. "He had no social life," Hoge says. "So other things started to suffer and there were a few performance problems in college. Nothing bad. But that was when his dad and I stepped in and said: 'OK, the experiment is over. The plate is full. Now pick.' "

So Jeremy dropped his job, which meant he no longer had to stay up until after midnight doing homework. This quarter he cut back to two rather than three college classes.

"He's socializing again and acting as a 16-year-old should act," Hoge says. "You walk a fine line - how much is too much? You want them to take responsibility and have some say in their lives, but at some point you realize they are 16, they are still young adults."

Another part of the bargain: The Hoges are requiring Jeremy to attend high school classes for the next two years, even though he could probably graduate early, because "he needs that connection" with his peers. Now his parents are thinking further down the road. "Jeremy has a real strong interest in going on to graduate school," Hoge says. "Both his dad and I think a tradeoff might be to take some time off to travel between undergraduate and grad school."

Still, Hoge, who works in the local public schools, is not entirely settled and is keeping vigilant watch. She offers blunt words of warning to other parents of gifted high schoolers.

"I've seen some good results and some bad results from these programs," she says. "The grades they get follow these kids for the rest of their lives, so this is not something to be taken lightly. It isn't like Mom or Dad can get on the phone and say, 'Oops we made a mistake, could you erase this record?' I think for Jeremy it's been a good call. But I want to see what happens at the end of one full year before we make any strong judgment."

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