Q: My son is a sophomore. While his grades are fair, mostly Cs and Bs, he seems to lack motivation. I still need to monitor his homework and we seem to argue all the time about electronics. I think he would be on the computer all day if we let him. Should we try to motivate him by paying for better grades? What about screen time?
A: Let’s look at what you can control and what you can’t control. First, your son needs to take ownership of his grades and this includes homework. If you continue to be involved, he may not learn the lessons that come with failure. He is certainly old enough to understand the consequences. While the stakes may seem high when we talk about high school grades, the motivation has to come from him. If you continue to stay involved, you run the risk of stealing from him his sense of autonomy and independence. If he feels you are overly controlling, you may see him act out in other areas.
I would let him know that you are going to back off and trust that he will manage his schoolwork. You may be surprised to see that he steps up and takes more initiative. For now, try to focus on the whole child.
What you can try to control is the time your son spends in front of a screen. Addiction to gaming is a real threat for boys, who seem more vulnerable than girls. Try to set clear, firm limits as to how much screen time is allowed on school nights. About one hour is reasonable. Make sure to get all electronics out of his room by a set time.
All you can do is to try to create an environment that is conducive to studying. Try to connect with him in areas of his life that are more removed from power struggle.
Q: I have been divorced from the father of my 12-year-old daughter for over 5 years. I have been dating Dan for two years now and we are talking about getting married in the coming year. How can we make sure that the marriage will be well-received by my daughter?
A: The good news is that it is possible to successfully blend families. There are a few very important points to keep in mind. The first is that blended families can take a very, very, long time to jell. Go slowly and try to have realistic expectations. Try to keep as much of the familiar routine as possible. The fewer changes the better. I believe that the biological parent should continue to play the role of disciplinarian when needed. Allow Dan to remain neutral until he is integrated into the family and accepted by your daughter. In the meantime, there is much Dan can do to try to build a relationship. If he and your daughter could find a mutual interest, that would be great. This could be as simple as a huge jigsaw puzzle that they work on. Maybe they could practice a sport together such as tennis. Another idea is to include her in the wedding. Let her help with some of the planning and make sure that she feels a part of the big day. And last but not least, make sure that you continue to spend one-on-one time with your daughter. You need to stay very connected as she moves into her teen years and you don’t want her to feel displaced by Dan. Invariably, there will be rough spots, but in time and with patience and empathy, your daughter should adjust well to this new man in both of your lives.