Q: Our daughter, a college sophomore, has had a steady boyfriend for the last three years.
We're quite concerned about him and their friends even though she is a well-behaved, thrifty, honor student who always has had a full-time job during the summer and on long school breaks. More to the point, she communicates well with us and her older brother and is a joy to our close-knit family and likes college very much.
However, she is eager to come home every few weeks, although it's a 3 1/2-hour trek. She says she wants to get away from dorm life, have some home-cooked meals and, of course, see her boyfriend.
The young man comes from a family where there is much disharmony. He has a sporadic work history and isn't taking any college courses or technical training. He is "shy" and basically has little interaction with us, but we do seem comfortable with each other on the very few occasions when we see him.
We're also concerned about his reliability. His driver's license was revoked for six months on a reckless driving charge and he became dependent on our daughter and his friends for transportation.
My husband and I took all this in stride, until we heard -- through reliable adult and peer sources -- that this group of friends is involved in alcohol and marijuana use.
We saw little change in our daughter's behavior this summer, except that she became more "wrapped up" in her boyfriend, and was pulled further into their group of friends. She stayed out later than before and, we believe, began to smoke cigarettes when she wasn't with us.
We know we will encourage rebellion and alienation if we try to break up her long-term relationship, but we are worried.
A: You don't have to break up this relationship as much as you have to expose it.
The sunlight of reality will open your daughter's eyes, and maybe it will open your eyes, too. Since she has made so many wise choices in her life, there must be some good in this young man, which you may discover if you can get to know him better.
It may be hard for him to show his best side if he hasn't learned many social skills at home and doesn't have the confidence to break out of the family mold. Moreover, his friends may reflect his own insecurities, if they are as aimless as he is and if they depend on alcohol and marijuana to hide their sense of failure.
Perhaps you can break through his reserve if you invite him to a family dinner whenever your daughter is home, but you don't want her to come back every three weeks. She can't give her all to college if she makes such frequent visits and she can't be learning much either.
She needs to be joining clubs, working on the school paper, getting involved in campus politics. Extracurricular activities teach students all the things they'll never learn in books. These experiences will help your daughter discover a new world, new ideas, new friends -- and to test her past, compare it with the present and choose the best of both.
Since you're paying the tuition, you have the right to expect her to get -- and give -- a bit more of herself at school. Ask her to come home every six weeks, instead of every three. You and your husband, or her brother, can drive up to take her out to Sunday dinner in the middle of the stretch if she gets too homesick.
Undoubtedly your daughter will ask her boyfriend to visit her, too, even if he has to take the bus. And then the sun will shine.
She's bound to compare him to the boys at school, and find out if his ambition and his work ethic stack up to theirs, and to hers. If it does, the campus atmosphere may give him the courage to get more education, whether at college or a trade school. And if it doesn't inspire him? Your daughter will become less attached to this young man, for she'll see they don't have much in common anymore.
The same litmus test also will apply to their friends. Once she spends more time at school, she will make new ones there, and then she won't rely on her old friends so much.
Don't blame her friends for everything, however.
Your daughter will do a little boundary-testing no matter who her friends are or where she is, for 20-year-olds make more experiments than rocket scientists. Most of them take a drink (and sometimes quite a few) and some start smoking, or try pot, but neither cigarettes nor marijuana are nearly as popular on campuses as they used to be.
Even if your daughter succumbs to temptation occasionally, she's probably too responsible to get hooked by any drug, unless addictions run in the family. If that's the case, you can only warn her of the genetic dangers and ask her to put off her experiments until she's out of college. By then, she should know enough to know better -- and she also should know enough about boyfriends. Questions may be sent to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.