Q. "Our daughter is 14 and goes to a fine private Catholic high school -- a school she had looked forward to for years, and one which many of her friends attend.
"Some of them are getting along fine -- although with the usual freshman heebie-jeebies -- but others are unhappy, especially our child.
"She says she wants OUT, right now, or at least by the end of the year. She says she's miserable and just can' t stand it any longer, that she can't understand half the subjects -- like algebra -- and the rest is mindless and uninspired (my translation of 'gross' and 'dumb').
"Even worse, she says, is that the teachers talk down to the children (unles parents are around) and often make fun of them for asking questions and even call them names.
"I must admit the assignments look pretty boring, but my husband and I think she had to learn, sooner or later, that life is like that. The school may not be what she had hoped for, but I'm sure it will get better. And, after all, she was the one who chose it. If she sticks with it she will learn how to stick with anything and have a strong character to depend upon.
"I must say she's never been a problem before -- outstanding in elementary school (also Catholic) and a happy child, but now she's only happy on vacation. During school she gripes all the time, and I often hear her crying in her room. This year her grades are only fair, except in algebra (D), and all the teaches say she must improve her attitude.
"Should we let her change schools? Of course, we can't let her switch at mid-term, but is quitting the way to build character? For all I know, the child is just groping through a super case of puberty."
A. You talk about your daughter as a child, but above all she is a person -- her own person -- and she needs you to pay attention to her pain. Puberty may exacerbate her anguish, but it doesn't cause it.
Since you accept the school's report of your daughter, please accept her report of the school. It will be at least as valid.
If she says the teachers have two ways of talking, she's almost surely right. Children lie a lot less than parents believe, and often take much more blame than they should. Eight years of school can condition children to think the teacher is always right. Even when they realize he/she isn't, it's hard to oppose the tide, especially when the teacher says, "If you don't behave, I'm going to tell your mother." This is enough to keep most children silent.
One nifty young woman recently said she was locked in the bathroom of her fine private school for two weeks -- every day, all day -- for some typically sassy eighth-grade infraction, and yet she had never mentioned it before. The teacher had made her think the crime was worse than the punishment.
It takes an awful lot of injustice to make a sanguine child rebel. When she is only unhappy in school or about school, something is the matter with the school, not the child. It may be the right place for other children, but if it's not right for your daughter, she should transfer -- immediately -- if possible.
If a job were baffling to you, or boring, or the boss was insulting or dishonest, you'd quit and you wouldn't wait six months to do it unless you had no option. And you surely would not wait four years. To stay would build resentment, not character.
The same is true for your child.
School is the center of her life. It mustn't be a prison, but a place where she will be challenged, interested and reasonably happy most of the time, so she will be eager to go there, most of the time.
Your daughter needs to know that even though she can't change the system at this school -- and she can't -- you want to help her endure it until she can find a new one.
And if you can't afford to change schools right now, or find the right one or you want more time to avoid another mistake, then at least give your daughter support, both public and private.
Go see both the principal and the teachers -- including your child in at least part of the conferences. Each side becomes the other's witness, so there is less dissembling.
Let the principal know that you trust your daughter; that you want her to be as happy in school as she is out of it, and that you feel the techers must have a more positive attitude about her, so she can have a more positive attitude about the school.
In exchange, offer to get special tutoring for her in key subjects, like algebra, but don't accept the standard offer of an older high school student. She won't do it well since she isn't trained in tutoring and also she will represent The School to your daughter, with all the misery it implies.
This should help your daughter endure what must be endured, particularly if you treat her to a supplemental class in some subject she likes a lot, taking it after school or on Saturdays. The Smithsonian, the Corcoran, Glen Echo, the Washington School of the Ballet, the Y or the recreation departments all offer good possiblilites. If she takes sewing, she can make new clothes for her new school, and typing will give her an edge in her homework there.
Be prepared to let her gripe a lot to you, so she can get rid of at least some of her anger, and give her an occasional holiday -- both to recover from the grind of her present school and to visit new ones, spending a whole day in each place to get the feel of it.
When your daughter learns that problems can be solved, she will be much less afraid of them. And when she learns that her parents will back her up, they won't seem impossible.