Q)My daughter, a high school senior, is bright, charming and a normal teen-ager -- sloppy, noisy and thoughtless. She has never been a behavior problem; she has a steady boyfriend and appears to be well-liked in school.
But she has never chosen to get good grades. She gets Bs and Cs and dislikes many of her courses. She takes the minimum number of courses and refuses to participate in sports and school activities.
The situation has some psychological dimensions. I was a serious straight-A student and attended an excellent college; my daughter says she doesn't want to be like me. She is also probably angry with me for leaving her father last year. She has had difficulties in school since she was 8, however, before our marital problems began.
I know that parents must let a child "be herself," not what the parent wants her to be, yet I am deeply disappointed in this girl.
I dread dealing with the college search this fall, because I don't think she is prepared for it.
Half of me wants to say to her, "You're really not interested in college. Why don't you just get a job?"
The other half of me wants to be supportive and helpful. How do I handle my anger and help her plan for her life after high school?
A)s soon as you realize -- emotionally, as well as intellectually -- that your child is her own person, you'll both have a much easier time.
The more you complain about her grades and her college chances, the more you chip away at her independence. This invites her to hit back in the way that matters most to you -- academically.
Never mind that she's the one who'll pay the higher price. If a child has to choose between independence and education, she'll take independence and feel justified.
A child, even an 8-year-old, has the right to try -- and fail. Without independence now, she instinctively knows she won't be an independent adult later.
Parents just don't have the right to make life decisions for their children. They can't even decide what grades they'll make.
And are your daughter's grades really so bad? A C is average; a B is above average. Her marks may not get her into a name school, but there are at least 3,800 colleges in the United States and Canada and many of the less prestigious ones are still very good.
There are other indicators of success that are more important than grades. Her behavior -- and therefore her values -- are good and this will bring her success, if not in college, then in a career.
Because the college search upsets you, let her work with the school counselor -- or her dad -- instead. She's old enough to fill out the applications and take one or two small trips alone to see colleges.
She also can get help from The Right College 1988 (Prentice Hall; $14.95); The Best Buys in College Education by Edward B. Fiske (Times Books; $9.95) and The College Guide for Parents by Charles J. Shields (Surrey; $9.95), a good guide for students, too.
Your daughter also needs some psychotherapy to look at the reasons for her eight-year slowdown in school and at the effects of your separation. No child should go through the trauma of divorce without professional help.
You should go to some of these sessions with her, so she can get from you what she needs most -- the knowledge that you accept her and love her for herself alone, and not for her achievements. A little joint therapy will help you both come to terms with your anger so you can love and understand each other without reservation. Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.
1987, Tribune Media Services Inc.