Q. My 17-year-old was on the cheer squad for two years but didn't make next fall's team. She's devastated and wants to switch schools. How can I make her understand that this is life?
A. You're right that disappointments happen, but try not to come across as dismissing her feelings. Cheering is part of her identity and losing her spot is hugely humiliating. So first acknowledge, sincerely, how difficult the situation is. Then remind her that she has the strength to make sure this loss doesn't define her. You also need to tell her that she can't blame the girl who took her place, because being mean goes against everything you've taught her about showing good character in difficult situations.
Q. Today another disciplinary notice came home, saying my 15-year-old has been rude to the same substitute teacher. My son is the kind of kid adults usually like, so his father and I are at our wits' end. What should we do?
A. Start by saying, "You aren't usually in trouble, so something is going on in this classroom that I need to know about." Listen to his response, but then explain that no matter what's happening, you require him to uphold your standards of respect. This is one of those moments when you embarrass your child in a good way. You, your son, and his dad are going to meet with the teacher, and your son is going to apologize. If he does it insincerely or badly, you are going to apologize for your son's behavior as well. Then give the teacher your cell phone number and say, "If you have any further trouble with him, please call me immediately. And to show that we are serious, my son will help you clean up your classroom at the end of the day."
Q. My 11-year-old nephew, Jason, spent the weekend with me, most of it on the computer. When he left I checked the history and saw he'd been on sex sites. I'm not sure how to tell his parents.
A. Start off by saying, "This is really uncomfortable to say, but over the weekend Jason was on my computer a lot. After he left I discovered that he'd been looking at pornography." At this point, his parents' reactions might vary from "Thanks so much for telling us" to "Why did you let him on the computer by himself?" to "Oh, it couldn't have been that bad." Whatever they say, you did the right thing. The rest is up to them, except for one thing: When Jason visits again, make the computer off-limits unless you're in the room, and plan alternative activities you can do with him.
Q. I think my daughter, at 12, is too young to dye her hair. Do you agree? She's been begging to do it.
A. There's something to be said for learning through experience. As in, your brown-haired daughter goes blonde, it comes out hideously orange and then she has to pay for someone at a salon to return it to her normal color. But if you really don't want to go down that road, I'd tell her that she can dye it when she's 14—but she has to use her own money, no matter what happens.
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Originally published in the May 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.