Q. My son, a senior, nearly makes himself sick doing the weekly five-page paper required in his AP history class, on top of pages and pages of reading every night. Should I speak with his teacher?
A. Your son (not you) needs to decide whether this class is a good fit. I know -- he's smart and you want him to have the best classes, not to mention early college credits -- but this attitude can contribute to his being hyperanxious. Your role is to help your son reevaluate his priorities. If he wants to stay in the class, he should talk to his teacher about how to manage the coursework. He should also decide whether he has too many outside responsibilities. Remember, choosing to take a less demanding history course or cut out an after-school activity doesn't make your son a failure! On the contrary, it will allow him to focus more energy on the commitments that mean the most to him.
Q. I got my 17-year-old daughter a job at my friend's store. She often goes in late, fakes sick days, and has a bad attitude. How do I get her to shape up?
A. Sit down with your daughter, tell her you love her, then explain precisely what she did that was irresponsible. Let her know that in addition to returning to work with a better attitude, she has to apologize to your friend, being very specific about what she did that was unacceptable. She can't just mumble "I'm sorry" and run out the door. Phone your friend, tell her your daughter is coming by to apologize and ask her to call you after your daughter leaves so you know she went through with it. When your daughter gets home, spend a moment alone with her and tell her how proud you are.
Q. My daughter says she has a boyfriend. How should I respond? She's only 12!
A. Without freaking out, ask your daughter what having a boyfriend means to her, keeping your questions positive so she'll feel more comfortable sharing with you. Did they meet at school? How did she know she liked him? When did she find out he liked her? While you have the right to tell her she can't have a boyfriend at 12, remember that "couples" this age are mostly too scared to talk to each other without their friends around. Regardless, tell her your expectations for how a boy should treat her, and that you are always there to talk. Also, encourage her to confide in her dad or another trusted male. Start teaching her that she deserves to be treated with respect, always.
Q. My daughter is 11, my son is almost 8. At what age can I leave her in charge for a few hours in the evening?
A. It depends on the child, of course, but 11 or 12 seems to me to be a good age to start babysitting a sibling. Assess your daughter's readiness: Do you trust her common sense? Can she think clearly (enough) under pressure? Can she remember important information (like the name of at least one neighborhood adult)? Can she handle simple first aid and figure out when to dial 911? Is your son likely to be cooperative? If you decide she can handle it -- as you would do for any babysitter -- leave clearly posted contact info for you and several other adults nearby, as well as for poison control. Some states have adopted "Home Alone" laws, which set standards for when kids can be left alone and for how long. To learn more, visit http://nccic.org/poptopics/homealone.html.