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N.J. Teen’s Suit Against Parents Raises Questions About Dealing With Young Adults

MORRISTOWN, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Parents and child psychologists weighed in Wednesday on the now-notorious lawsuit by Rachel Canning, the New Jersey high school student and cheerleader who has filed a lawsuit against her parents for living expenses and college money.

As CBS 2’s Christine Sloan reported, Canning, an 18-year-old honor student at Morris Catholic High School, filed a lawsuit against her parents, alleging they were verbally abusive and threw her out of their Lincoln Park, N.J. home for not following rules.

Canning claimed her parents’ motive in throwing her out was that she would not stop dating a boy they did not like.

But her parents, who wept in court, said their daughter left on her own, and does not deserve her college fund because she drinks, stays out past her curfew, and is disrespectful. Canning has denied those accusations, but many parents had an opinion about them.

“I think it’s ridiculous. I think that the parents have every right to not give her the money,” said Tina Vanderhoff of Danville. “She’s of age.”

But not everyone agreed with that sentiment.

“I believe it’s their obligation until 21. After 21, and then I you should be on your own,” said John Minardi of Danville.

On Tuesday, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter Bogaard denied Canning’s emergency request for $600 a month in support, high school and college tuition and legal fees.

But he said the sides will revisit the issue of college tuition at the end of April, about a month after Canning’s financial aid forms are due. Bogaard hinted that ruling in the teen’s favor could set a dangerous legal precedent, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported Tuesday.

“Do we want to establish a precedent where parents living in constant fear of establishing basic rules of the house?” he said.

The case has raised questions about how to deal with growing adults. Clinical psychologist Dr. Patricia Fuzzi said parents need to let their kids know they are allies.

“We need to have an understanding of both sides, and find that happy medium that allows the child the space to evolve — from the perspective of, ‘Yes, I know that you’re an adult, but I have experience; I have information. I am your friend in all of this process,’” she said.

But Fuzzi said tough love, consequences, and even therapy are all necessary when a problem becomes serious.

“Adult life is not that everything is a given — and part if it is a little bit of the generation. It’s been termed the ‘give me generation,’” Fuzzi said. “So there is a lot of expectation.”

Judge Bogaard expressed a similar sentiment on the bench Tuesday, but said he does not want to set a precedent until both sides meet again.

“Are we going to condone and open the gates to a 12-year-old to sue for an Xbox, a 13-year-old for an iPhone – ‘Everyone has, it why can’t I?’” he said.

At issue whether is Canning emancipated herself by leaving her Lincoln Park home, or if her parents kicked her out and have an obligation to support her.

Legal analysts said under New Jersey state law, 18-year-olds are still considered dependents – especially on federal aid application forms.

Canning has been staying with a friend’s family since the beginning of November. Her friend’s father, attorney and former Morris County Freeholder John Inglesino, is bankrolling the lawsuit.

The Cannings are due back in court on April 22.

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