You Have to Pay the Piper Sometime


Have you ever heard the expression, “Guess I gotta pay the piper.”?  It is often used about a situation where a price is paid that is considered too high or unfair, but failing to pay the price often results in dire consequences.  This expression is based on the story of the Pied Piper, who removed the rats from a town, and when not paid, he took the town’s children instead!

You have to pay the piper sometime.  This is one of my mantras in parent education.  It typically arises in the context of homework and school projects, but is a truism in many aspects of raising a child to become a responsible, healthy, and caring young adult.  Let me set the scene…

A middle schooler waits until the last minute to work on a project that should have been started three weeks ago.  It’s worth 30% of the grade for the quarter.  The parent, not wanting the student’s grade to be lowered, jumps in to assist so that project can be handed in on time.  ...Or writes a note to the teacher providing an excused absence so the student can stay home and complete the project.  The thought?  If her grades are not so good, she may miss the opportunity to get into the higher level math or the honors level for that subject in 9th grade.

Then high school rolls around and now the grades really do matter for the college admissions process.  Parents pull all-nighters to help their student complete a critical paper or advocate for an extension with the department chair given the son’s strenuous athletic schedule that season.  The thought?  If he drops a letter grade in that subject, it might eliminate certain options for highly selective colleges.

Are you willing to pay the piper in college which might mean an additional year’s tuition to the tune of $20K - $50K?  Without the time management, organizational, self-advocacy, or study skills necessary to live up to her potential, you might have to.  Or you could choose to intervene yet again (…perhaps because you anticipate grad school in your student’s future and you know the college transcript needs to be stellar to get accepted in the top programs).

As you can see, if you wait to pay the piper and rescue your middle schooler, your high schooler…even your college student, the price will continue to escalate.

I was heartened the other day when I heard from a parent of an 8th grader who attended one of my college series sessions on the community college option.

As she departed, she remarked, “This was such a great session.  I now feel confident that I can relax and back off from supervising my son so much with regard to his academics.  I was so worried that if I backed off and he didn’t live up to his potential, he would have no options after high school.  But now I know there is a great option for him no matter what!” 

WOW!  It is wonderful to see a parent connect the dots and realize that she needs to let her son stand on his own two feet in high school so that he can make some mistakes and learn how to manage his time/studies without his parent’s intervention. 

What lessons have you learned along the way about “paying the piper”?





About Author

Page Cvelich

College/Teen Program Manager

Page Cvelich has brought a wealth of knowledge to the Work/Life Center from prior experience as a high school guidance counselor and parent education coordinator. Page has been responsible for setting up a high school college and career center, designing a career exploration program for teens and serving as a counselor at a backpacking camp in the Rockies. In her role as Teen/College Program Manager, Page enjoys interacting with small groups of parents and teens, as well as consulting one-on-one with parents and referring them to resources so that they are better able to provide the support and encouragement their kids need.

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