The latest viral news story seems to have a perennial favorite of the American media consumer: a young, entitled woman making big mistakes in public. In New Jersey, an 18-year-old woman has sued her parents for $650 a week in support, high school tuition back pay, college tuition and legal fees. At first glance, the teen’s claims seem far-fetched and even repulsive: parents have an enforceable legal duty to pay for college now? And to financially support their adult children? Does this mean that parents who don’t have those financial resources are vulnerable to lawsuits for being poor?! No. A thousand times no. If you’re 18, and you want to act wild, then support yourself and quit whining.
The articles about this young woman’s case are certainly written to elicit that horrified response from parents and non-parents alike. However, I admit the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. The facts don’t seem to add up to a spoiled brat stamping her foot. Here’s what we know: this 18 year old is alleging that her parents’ household was abusive. They allege that she began acting out and dating someone they don’t approve of, and then left their house to live with a friend when they told her she needed to follow their rules. Her friend’s dad is a local lawyer, and he is funding her suit. Her own father isn’t a rich banker or something, but is the former chief of police for the municipality. To me, the fact that the friend’s father, whom she is living with, would bankroll her lawsuit against the former chief of police is a red flag. It’s a strange enough detail that it lends credence to the general impression that this case is not what it seems.
This young woman was the captain of her cheer squad and active in campus ministry until recently, when she was kicked out of both. She had also previously been an honors student, who already has a $20,000 scholarship to the University of Vermont, her first choice. To me, the hard turn in her behavior seems perfectly credible for someone who has suffered trauma. In contrast, it doesn’t seem likely that someone accustomed to structured team environments and such high achievement at school would balk at normal household expectations, all of a sudden, without a reason.
It’s absolutely possible that this young woman is suffering from a crippling case of entitlement. It seems, if she is, that she’s learning rapidly how far that will get her in her young life. But, let’s consider for a moment that she suffered a trauma that she’s not ready to talk about and that her behavior is spinning out of control because of it. Isn’t this national press attention that paints her as a spoiled little asshole teaching her a valuable lesson about that, too?