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Parents: standing back, stepping in with a bright student

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Some proud parents with gifted children might decide in a flash to send their young Einstein to college a year or two early. Why not? After all, he or she is smart enough.

That's not good enough for Patricia Hoge. When Mrs. Hoge's 16-year-old son Jeremy announced one day last year that he wanted to use the state's dual-enrollment plan to attend the University of Minnesota - not in two years after graduating from high school, but right away - it was not excitement but concern his mother felt first.

"We worried whether Jeremy was giving up time he would never recapture," she says in a phone interview. "His maturity level has always been a couple of years ahead. He fits in much better with young adults than kids his own age. Our concern was, could he handle the emotional stress. We knew he qualified academically."

So instead of rushing right over to the university to help him enroll, Patricia and her husband Richard told Jeremy that if he was serious he would have to do his entire enrollment by himself - all the necessary paperwork and whatever else was required. That was Step 1.

"A child has to understand that he has to be his own advocate," she says, "and that unlike high school, Mom and Dad aren't going to be as welcome a voice once he gets on campus if he has problems."

Jeremy did it all "in fine form," she says, indicating that he had some understanding of his own responsibility.

Still, the Hoges tracked Jeremy's progress closely. Within weeks, they realized there was a problem. Their son was carrying 14 college-credit hours - 12 is full load. In addition he was taking two early morning classes at his high school and working 20 hours a week. "He had no social life," Hoge says. "So other things started to suffer and there were a few performance problems in college. Nothing bad. But that was when his dad and I stepped in and said: 'OK, the experiment is over. The plate is full. Now pick.' "

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