Q. I need advice in raising my daughter, nearly 13, who is exceptional, I think, and quite challenging.
Whereas I am very social and wear my heart on my sleeve, she has always been independent, stoical and private -- a person who prefers solitude. I could sit her on the floor at 9 months, give her a basket of baby books and she would amuse herself for hours. She was a spontaneous reader at 31/2 and now reads five to seven adolescent books a week as well as the daily paper.
She has written 100 pages of a novel and is working on a book of poetry and short stories. She also draws cartoons endlessly, which have been filled with irony and somewhat dark humor ever since she was 5 or 6. What seemed precocious at 8 just terrifies me at 13.
Seventh grade has been a huge year of change for her, and she is drawing away from friends in the Girl Scouts and leaning toward a crowd that she sees as interesting and quirky but I see as unsupervised and adult beyond their years. Some of the kids use bad language and talk about sex and drugs.
My daughter does dress in black T-shirts and jeans and wristbands, but her attitude isn't dark and she is polite to teachers and other adults.
She is often stubborn and defensive when someone tells her how to do something if she thinks she knows how to do it, and we have our biggest fights about her self-absorption, which I see as selfishness. She keeps her nose in a book while her pets go unfed, her dad and I clean up around her and her brother offers to help us make dinner.
We live in a rural county, the schools have few resources, and all four grandparents are dead, leaving us with only a few relatives.
How can I keep this bright kid on the right track in the next critical years?
A. You're lucky -- luckier than you know. You and your husband have hatched your own quirky little bird, who will delight and astonish you if you encourage her strengths without expecting her to be good in everything.
Suggest that your daughter submit a poem or a short story to the excellent Cricket magazine, for instance, which is written by young people. Whether it publishes her entry or not, she will learn from the experience. A child is never too young to win a prize -- or get her first rejection slip.
Your daughter can find much help at her library, but she will find more of it, and more quickly, if she has Internet access.
With it she can find the many universities that offer two- or three-week summer programs, in many subjects that appeal to the young and creative. Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., at www.purdue.edu/geri, offers courses in writing, art and computer graphics, and so does the well-regarded Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, at www.cty.jhu.edu. These kinds of courses usually cost about $900 a week, including room and board, and almost all universities give need-based scholarships. In addition, CTY publishes a fine magazine called Imagine for young people, telling them what the world has to offer. It comes out five times a year, costs $25 and is definitely worth it.
Many universities also offer mentoring programs and distance courses, which cost considerably less than the camps and are offered year-round, and some museums have after-school art classes, and even cartooning classes, which would be great if you don't have to drive too far. If that's not available, have her check out the National Cartoonists Society to feel like she's part of the cartooning world. She might even send an occasional political cartoon or small New Yorker-style line drawings to her newspaper's editorial page or ask her school paper if she can start a comic strip. The more you encourage your daughter's interests, the better you'll get along.
While it's important to help her hone her talents, it's even more important to help her become a good person and do her share at home. Giftedness is no excuse for laziness.
If she has her nose in a book when it's time to cook or clean or feed her pets, just pluck the book out of her hands, give a smile and say, "Sorry, babe. We have work to do."
That's life, and that's just the way it is.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or to P.O. Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.