Q: Our 17-year-old daughter is bright but puts very little effort into her schoolwork. For example, she currently has very low grades in several classes simply because of not turning in assignments. Her only after-school activity is hanging out with her friends, so the problem, in our estimation, is simply one of setting priorities. We think she needs a job and have made getting one a condition of having access to a car (one of ours) other than to drive to work and back. We have also told her that to have broad driving privileges, she must get her grades up. Her grandfather, who is very involved with our family, has told her that she needs to concentrate on her schoolwork and that she should not get a job. We want to always demonstrate respect for our elders but think my father’s position on this is wrong and undermines our authority. What would you suggest we do?
A: I do not like to step into internecine squabbles of this sort, but it’s obvious that Grandpa is letting his heart rule his head concerning his grandchild (a common pitfall). Yes, your daughter needs to concentrate on her school responsibilities, but she has made it clear that she has no intention of doing so. Tying driving privileges to her schoolwork is logical, rational, sane and commonsensical, and I highly recommend you stay the course on that matter. I would also recommend that you confiscate her cellphone. But – and this is the proverbial kicker – my experience in this area causes me to seriously doubt that any consequence or combination of consequences is going to move this situation off square one.
In the first place, without making more academic effort than she is currently making, your daughter is going to get around the consequence of having no driving privileges by relying on her friends for transportation. That seems to be sufficient for a good number of today’s teens.
You can bring her social life to a veritable halt by completely grounding her, but I don’t recommend that with this age. The ensuing disruption in the parent-teen relationship isn’t worth it.
So, I reluctantly predict that no consequence is going to result in better grades. Nonetheless, I somewhat paradoxically recommend that you invoke the consequences of no driving privileges and no cellphone (I’m certain that she will be able, in a pinch, to borrow a friend’s). Consequences are the way of the world; therefore, consequences should be employed whether they work or not.
You are probably going to have to find her the job in question, or at least find the job opportunities and drive her to the interviews. Do it. She needs to be prepared for entering the work force or the military after high school. As for her schoolwork, she will bring her grades up when she sees the purpose in doing so whether she has a job or not.
As for Grandpa, respecting one’s elders doesn’t mean always agreeing with them. Simply tell him that while you always value his opinion, there are times when you feel moved to follow your own intuitions.
Visit family psychologist John Rosemond’s website at www.johnrosemond.com; readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org; due to the volume of mail, not every question will be answered.