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Fair or outrageous? New Jersey teen sues her parents to pay up for college

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 0122 GMT (0922 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A New Jersey teen sues her parents to pay her college costs
  • She says her parents kicked her out; they say she left on her own
  • Reaction online was swift, with many pointing to a sense of entitlement by the teen
  • One tweet summed it up this way: #Nowinners

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- It's another one of those "you can't make this kind of stuff up" stories.

A New Jersey high school senior sued her parents, accusing them of tossing her out of the family home when she turned 18 and refusing to pay for her private high school and college education.

In a lawsuit, Rachel Canning of Lincoln Park, New Jersey, asked a court to have her parents pay the outstanding tuition for her private high school, pay her living and transportation expenses for the foreseeable future, use money from an existing college fund to pay for at least some of her college education, and pay her legal bills.

At a hearing Tuesday in New Jersey State Superior Court, a judge denied the request for high school tuition and current living expenses. Another hearing will be held in April to deal with the other issues in the suit, including college costs.

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It's a case of she said versus they said.

Rachel Canning says she is an honors student and cheerleader, who was cut off from her family and could lose the opportunity to attend college, where she hopes to major in biomedical engineering.

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Canning's parents, Sean and Elizabeth, argue that she was not kicked out of the house. Instead, they say she left on her own back in October because she didn't want to abide by their rules.

Mixed into this seemingly dysfunctional family brew are a number of other allegations against each side: that the Cannings didn't like Rachel's boyfriend and that they were abusive to her, and that Rachel missed curfews and was suspended from school.

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No surprise that reaction in social media was swift and significantly tilted in one direction.

"She is an entitled spoiled brat and will regret this later in life," wrote G.G. Benitez, CEO and founder of a public relations firm, on my Facebook page.

Tish Howard, a former elementary school principal and CEO of an educational consulting firm, agreed. "Here is another example of what happens when children are over entitled. Let's hand out more trophies for just showing up," Howard, a mother and grandmother, wrote on Facebook.

Kim Kennedy, a New York-based television producer, said,"Bratty kids have always been there. Some have better publicists."

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But there was a little bit of blame for the parents too.

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"Her parents have clearly contributed to the development of her character and work ethic (or lack thereof)," wrote Pamela Sellers, a freelance producer and writer and mom of two girls in Atlanta.

"They should settle this by ensuring that she complete her high school degree. As for college: until she learns to appreciate what she's had, she will never be respectful. They should cut her off completely. Her learning to make it on her own will be the best thing in the end."

Howard, the former school principal, said she feels "deep compassion" for the parents.

"I am saddened that someone in their life was not brave enough to have a critical conversation with them years ago about disabling children with an easy easy path," she said. "Self esteem and accountability are by products of overcoming disequilibrium and succeeding not by having adults eliminate the hurdles and failures for you."

Dorothy Liu, an entrepreneur and mom in Bellevue, Washington, said if the parents' side of the story is true, it sounds as though they were "at the end of their rope."

CNN\'s Kelly Wallace writes, \
CNN's Kelly Wallace writes, "It's a case of she said versus they said."

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"As parents, most of us try to do the best we can and hope we can instill enough good common sense and humility in our kids so they may make good decisions," said Liu, who has a 10-year-old daughter. "It saddens me to see the level of entitlement in this generation, but it's more evidence that by giving our kids every opportunity to realize their potential, we're also giving them the power to see it as their due rather than the gift and privilege it is."

On the other side are people like Sheryl Resnick of Tucson, Arizona, who believes the appropriateness of suing parents really depends on the individual child's circumstances

"I know of a situation where a 12-year-old was taken out of private school and had to go to public school in a different city," said Resnick, also on Facebook. "His parents drank up his school money. But in those days a kid didn't sue his parents. He pitied them. But it did irrevocably change his life."

READ: Nonversations: When talking to your teen is one-sided

Perhaps the view that sums up this entire case was a tweet with the hashtag #Nowinners by a father of two boys. He called it a "terrible situation."

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Indeed it is, because whatever happens, you have a relationship between a child and her parents that is anything but healthy at the moment.

Raising a teenager isn't easy. At the same time, being a teenager is no walk in the park either. If only both sides could find a way to meet in the therapist's office -- together -- that would be a step in the right direction, said Jennifer Hartstein, a New York City-based child, adolescent and family psychologist.

"Clearly, there is a breakdown in communication in this family, bordering on limited communication," said Hartstein. "The real question I have is how did it get so bad and go this far? What kind of steps could have been taken prior to this happening?"

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