Q: My beautiful 13-year-old daughter is smart, quick-witted and fun — a child who thought elementary school was wonderful. Her teachers were excellent and she loved them as much as they loved her.
Her middle school teachers also have been caring but they are less involved and they pay less attention to her. She struggled last year because she is disorganized, and she didn’t do as well as she should have, but that was fine with us and with her friends. These straight-A, super-organized students are mature and very thin, but they love my daughter even though she is full-figured; she is bombing out of eighth grade and she is immature for her age.
If I ask our three children to set the table, she splits hairs about everything. If her brother yells, “A towel, please!” after his shower, she waits for someone else to get it. If I ask her to get drinks for my husband and me, she’ll bring out the glasses but she won’t fill them with water and ice unless we ask. We even have to ask her to take a shower every night and if I come home late, she is still sitting on her bed, unshowered and reading Harry Potter or some other fantasy book for the umpteenth time.
I think I could handle these situations if she were doing better in school, but she stinks at it and I know that high school will be brutal. Although she is smart enough to handle the work, she doesn’t do it or even realize how good she would feel if she did it on time.
Is my daughter profoundly lazy? Or is she just disregarding us and our expectations?
Her school counselor says that she gives her teachers the “stink eye” if they call her out on something, which she would never have done in elementary school. This scares me because my daughter is much like a young woman I know who lives alone, is very heavy set and reads and rereads the same books. How can I keep my child from falling into this pattern?
A: Let’s get a couple of possibilities out of the way. Your daughter is not a lazy child because there is no such thing as a lazy child, nor is she disregarding your expectations. She is, in fact, so aware of them that she turns to fantasy, which is the escape of many young teens. In moderation, it’s a healthy one but your daughter may be going beyond moderation and you need to find out why.
She may have an hormonal overload which means you will have to be extra patient and understanding for the next year or two but you should also consider other possibilities.
Begin by having her get a complete physical to see if a thyroid problem or something else could be making her tired, testy, depressed or heavier than she should be. Even if she’s okay, she should see a nutritionist because a full-figured young girl is bound to worry about her weight if her friends are much thinner. A teenager is also much likelier to eat healthful foods if an outside expert explains the reasons for it, rather than a parent, if the whole family eats the same meals that she eats and if you offer vegetables and hummus for snacks instead of cookies and chips. This one-time consultation may seem like a waste of money but it is critical. If your daughter’s weight isn’t normal in adolescence, she will always think of herself as fat or thin, not by what she weighs at age 30 or 40 or 50 but by what she weighed when she was a teenager.
If the doctor and the nutritionist say that your daughter’s health and her weight are fine, however, you should look into attention deficit disorder since it causes so many organizational problems. Some sessions with a special tutor will teach her the strategies she needs so she can organize her material better. And if none of this works, the five of you may need a few sessions with a family therapist who also is known for their work with teenagers.
Any of these approaches will work better, however, if you recognize your child’s strengths far more than her weaknesses and if you teach her some adult skills. Let her make the salad for dinner, for instance, and give her the honor of roasting a chicken for company. Her sibs can set the table.
And for her brother who expects his sister to fetch his towel? Let him streak past the family; he’ll remember to carry his own towel to the shower the next time (or the next).
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