Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Daughter Using Emergency Credit Card for Fun

DEAR HARRIETTE: I just found out that my daughter has been using her emergency credit card, which I gave her when she went away to school, for frivolous purchases. I gave her this card with the confidence that she would use it in case she were ever stranded and needed it for safety.

I know she is using this to buy herself expensive sushi dinners, but I can’t bring myself to take it away. I would never forgive myself if something happened to her. How many more chances should I give her with this credit card? -- First Strike, Towson, Maryland

DEAR FIRST STRIKE: Your daughter needs to learn how to be responsible with the card. Rather than taking it away from her, let her know that she must pay the bill. This means she may need to get a part-time job while she’s at school. This is very common for college students. Suggest that she speak to the administration office to learn of work-study jobs that might be available. She may want to talk to a professor in her major to see if she can work a few hours a week with him or her. Don’t do the legwork for her.

Give your daughter a certain amount of time to repay you for the extraneous charges she made. Remind her that the card is exclusively for emergencies. Give her a list of what you consider emergencies to be, and have her agree out loud so that there’s no question about usage.

If she complies, let her keep the card. If she does not, take back the card and let her know that she will have to call you in case of emergency. She has to experience the consequences of her actions, or she will not learn.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My stepchildren have a very strong work ethic. They have both been working since their early teen years and are practically self-sufficient. My children, however, are older than my stepchildren and still struggle to keep entry-level positions (or even serving jobs). I wish I could take some of my stepchildren’s desire to succeed and give it to my children. Where did I go wrong? I tried to give my children the world. -- Need a Boost, Milwaukee

DEAR NEED A BOOST: You sound like a lot of parents these days who went above and beyond to ensure that their children had everything they needed to succeed. Interestingly, the desire to give has backfired for a lot of families. I believe this is because people need to work for what they achieve. Your intention did not yield the results you desired, because your children didn’t have to stretch as much as they needed to build that muscle of discipline that leads to success.

It is not too late. Talk to your children about their desires and dreams. Ask them to let you know what they want to do with their lives, and then encourage them to go for it. That may mean going back to school or choosing a different field for their work. Don’t use your stepchildren as an example. That will anger your children. Just encourage them to take their lives more seriously -- starting now.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)