Q. My 11-year-old has to be pushed to do homework. I've tried taking away his tech toys sometimes, but that hasn't helped. What else should I do?
A. Most parents, including me, have to pressure their kids. It comes with the turf. But I want to go back to his electronics because it sounds like you're coming across to your son as wishy-washy. There shouldn't be any debate: Completing his school and family responsibilities comes before everything else. There's no room for negotiation. Having said that, though, I don't believe in making kids do homework as soon as they get home from school. He can play music, get a snack, ride his bike, or just hang out with the family and unwind. Then comes the homework. When it's done he can veg out with his electronics.
Q. As a kid I was the victim of mean girls. Now my 12-year-old daughter is the one bad-mouthing others. How do I keep her from becoming a person I don't even like?
A. Be straight up with her: "Look, I've heard you gossiping and saying cruel things about other kids. That behavior goes against what our family fundamentally stands for, and it's unacceptable to me. If you do it around me, I will call you on it. If I find out from other people you've been unkind, I will make you apologize. And if you won't do it sincerely, I will apologize on your behalf and tell the parents that if they have additional problems, they should contact me immediately." Now, it's likely your daughter won't exactly love you for this, which is fine. She'll be angry for exactly the right reason—you're refusing to put up with her nasty behavior.
Q. My 16-year-old is a good student, captain of his baseball team, and he volunteers with disabled kids. But recently he got arrested for having prescription pills that weren't his. My husband and I never saw this coming. We have a school hearing and one in family court. How can we be sure he's learned his lesson?
A. Let's remember that wonderful kids can do really bad things. So don't beat yourself up for not knowing. Lots of high-performing kids use drugs, usually either to numb anxiety or maintain energy and focus to keep up with all the obligations. So you and your husband have to ask him what his motivations were, because he won't stop until the underlying reasons are addressed. He may also need to see a good therapist. As for the hearings, support him in a way that holds him accountable. Tell him that yes, this is really hard, but that he can be proud of himself if he takes responsibility for his actions and accepts help. Also, check his texts and Facebook page right after the hearings, because if he's blowing them off, he'll probably share that with his friends. If that's the case, you'll know you've got a bigger problem on your hands that will take all your vigilance, consistency, and ingenuity to turn around.
Originally published in the March 1, 2010, issue of Family Circle magazine.