High School Cheerleader Sues Parents For Tuition

by Pamela J. Hobart

Teenage angst and resulting friction with the parental units: we've all been there. But the story of Rachel Canning, an 18-year-old high school senior in New Jersey, sure does take high school drama to an all-time high (or low, really). Ms. Canning is a student and a cheerleader at a private Catholic school. Having become increasingly upset with her parents' rules, Ms. Canning left home and went to stay with a friend ("ran away") in October. Due to Ms. Canning's refusal to work things out or return to their home, her parents responded by cutting off support on her 18th birthday in November.

The story is a little bit he-said, she-said between Ms. Canning and her father. Although Ms. Canning has not yet responded to Buzzfeed's request for comment, her father, Sean Canning has provided extensive comments:

'We love our child and miss her. This is terrible. It’s killing me and my wife. We have a child we want home. We’re not draconian and now we’re getting hauled into court. She’s demanding that we pay her bills but she doesn’t want to live at home and she’s saying "I don’t want to live under your rules,"' Mr. Canning said. Mr. Canning contends that his daughter left on her own accord because she was simply unwilling to follow his demands she be respectful, do her chores, and give back some of her sister's borrowed belongings. 'We’re heartbroken but what do you do when a child says "I don’t want your rules but I want everything under the sun and you to pay for it?”'

Although of course even a genuinely abusive parent would probably lie to the press, to Mr. Canning's credit, a New Jersey state worker began an investigation into the family's situation but rapidly gave it up when it became apparent to the worker that Ms. Canning was just "spoiled."

I was under the impression that parents' obligations to their children did in fact end when those children turn 18, but apparently the situation is more complicated than that. A young adult who attends college may not be considered legally emancipated in the state of New Jersey, depending on the totality of the circumstances as determined by the courts if necessary. However, the "dependent" status of a college-attending child doesn't legally entitle him or her to college tuition, just the basic kind of support that parents are otherwise obligated to provide.

Legality aside, though, have Ms. Canning's parents done anything wrong? As far as I can tell, they are fairly normal people who, until recently, have demonstrated great willingness to invest financially in Ms. Canning's education by paying for Catholic school and accumulating a college fund. Even if their rules were truly draconian, such is their right as parents as long as they are not abusive. It would be wrong for the Cannings to forcibly keep Ms. Canning at home, but it's also wrong — and, ironically, un-adultlike — for Ms. Canning to act as if her personal choices should have no consequences. And what the hell are her friends' parents' thinking? They're not only hosting her for an extended period of time, but funding the lawsuit as well. Given that no actual abuse has occurred, that is some truly egregious meddling.

But I will ask you not to pass judgment on a whole generation just because a few especially badly-behaved young people make it into the mainstream media. Ms. Canning may be a "Millennial," but her actions are first and foremost a reflection on herself. Most of us paid for college the good old-fashioned way: student loans! No lawsuits required.