As a parent, I am torn between encouraging my kids to follow their dreams and tempering those dreams with a dose of reality. I want them to believe in themselves, and to chase whatever rainbows they seek while they are young, but as they grow into adulthood I want them to get real about where those rainbows lead. I don’t just mean that I want them to realize at some point that their chances of becoming fairy princesses or legendary heroes are slim. I want them to enter adulthood with realistic expectations, following dreams that will provide them with happy and successful lives while leaving them unburdened with decades worth of debt.
Too much debt
Pretty much everyone agrees that the United States has a student loan problem, although some stop short of calling it a crisis. While people are split on how to handle the issue, there is no denying that skyrocketing higher education costs combined with increased student loan debt need to be addressed.
Personally, I plan to deal with the student loan crisis at home. My husband and I both took out student loans when we were in college, but we paid them in full without ever trying to duck our debt. I expect no less from our kids if they should happen to use loans to finance their education.
Parents, train your children
The parents of today’s debtors are as much to blame for the student loan problems as anyone else. They allowed their children to grow up believing that they could be anything and do anything they wanted, but without ever telling them that some dreams are cost prohibitive.
In story after story about the student loan crisis, cases of students owing $100,000 or more are cited. Many of these students hold degrees that they can’t even use, or degrees which hold such low earning potential that the chances of ever paying off such staggering debt is extremely low. Parents of these students let their kids grow up chasing dreams headlong into massive debt, and it’s caught up with them.
How to avoid big debt
The best way to avoid big student loan debt is to raise the next generations of children differently. We have to get smart about debt as parents, and let our children know that no matter what the family desires, if the debt load is too high, the answer is no. This applies to everything from the latest gadgets and trendiest clothes to the most prestigious universities.
When it comes to student loans, we need to teach our children early to be honest with themselves. Do the math, and help them see how long it would take to pay off a student loan if their loftiest career aspirations don’t pan out. Research the earning potential of different degrees and career paths, and help them make wise decisions so they don’t spend the next few decades in debt. Help your children find degrees that are marketable and still offer the rewards and challenges they seek.
Better solutions start at home
There are many alternatives to running up large amounts of student loan debt. Your child may choose to go to school at a smaller, state university rather than a large out-of-state private school. Or they may choose a degree that will increase their upfront earning potential. If your child does not earn scholarships or grants to pay for school, they may choose to go part time while working, so that they are not saddled with so much debt when the graduate.
All of these decisions should be made early, some of them during your child’s junior year in high school. Therefore, it is not too early to start talking about options for avoiding student loan debt as early as middle school. If your kids understand it is a priority that they live happy and successful lives, unburdened by debt, they will be more likely to make smart choices when they start college. And that’s not just good for them, it’s good for the country.