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Dear Carolyn: I am a mother of two teenage girls, 16 and 13. They are both bright. Both of them, however, have a habit that drives me completely out of my mind.
Neither one of them studies for exams properly. My older daughter types exchanges on Facebook, while glancing at her textbook from time to time. For the younger one, substitute "watches television" for "types exchanges on Facebook."
Both daughters earn A's on homework and papers, then bomb their tests (C's and D's) and end up with B's as final grades. Their attitude is: "Get out of my business, Mom, I'll handle this the way I want." Meanwhile, I am thinking of how much I will have to sacrifice financially to send these two slackards to college, and my head is about to explode.
It doesn't help that my ex-husband makes me the Mean Parent whenever he talks to the girls about schoolwork (as in: "Your mother thinks you don't study enough"). I don't want the girls to choose to live with him, but I am furious that they take such a cavalier approach to their studies. My attempts to get them to study have led them to shriek vile remarks while threatening to "go live with Dad." Any suggestions?
Carolyn says: The "slackards" have aced a couple of lessons without studying. First, they know they can blackmail Mom. You care more about keeping them in your home than you care about their study habits. You're toothless.
Second, they know there are no consequences for their bad-habit B's. With no apparent inner drive besides "go to college free," they've made the basic and accurate calculation that they will get into Whatever U and you will pay for it.
If it's important to you that their study habits (and, therefore, attitudes) change, then you will have to change your role in the calculations underlying their habits.
For example, when they threaten to go live with Dad: "Is not studying really that important to you? I love you and want you to live here, more than anything. But this isn't about what I want, it's about your future. Loving you means I won't back down on your future just because it might cost me what I want."
Quit the popularity contest with your ex. If you and he can't negotiate yourselves into a unified front -- please try --then talk to your girls plainly: Why do they think Dad doesn't take a stand on this? Don't badmouth or lecture; provoke thought. They're bright.
And when they claim it's not your business: "Yes, but paying college tuition is my business, and the financial sacrifice I make for your education will reflect the sacrifices you make to get that education. Extend yourselves, and I will too, gladly. I will support your goals, not have them for you."
Given their tender ages and toughened attitudes, I have to believe they've had years to study Manipulative Arts. Two scripted statements will hardly suffice to undo that. You need the bedrock they rest on, too: You're the parent. Following through to un-teach those two lessons will be profoundly difficult for you, but you need to do it, for all of you. You want them to ask more of themselves? Show them how, by asking more of you.E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her at 11 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.