Dear Sara, My 13 year old daughter has begun to ask when she can date…

Dear Sara,

My 13 year old daughter has begun to ask when she can date. I don’t think she has been asked yet but I think she is hopeful. What kinds of limits should I set? Should I check out the boy to see if he is OK for her to date? I worry about her getting into trouble sexually and maybe getting into the wrong crowd and trying drugs.


Dear Andrew,

At thirteen your daughter will probably be interested in boys around her age who won’t be able to drive yet so you or the boys parents will have to chauffeur them around. This will give you an opportunity to meet the boy and his parents. You will have some control over how late they stay out and be able to check out where they are going. If she has some experience with these kinds of outings with good results then you can gauge whether she is trustworthy.

As she gets older you will have less control. You can insist that her dates pick her up at your house so that you can meet them and set a curfew. If she’s been trustworthy up until this point then you will have some confidence that this will continue.

If you’ve talked to her about the dangers of unprotected sex and how much misery drug and alcohol addiction can bring, you’ve done what you can to protect her. She is growing up and will want to make her own decisions. It’s going to difficult for you to let go because you want to protect her but she will rebel if you try to restrict her too much.

This is a difficult time for parents when they have to let their children make their own decisions. If you’ve let her know your values and how you expect her to behave, you’ve done what you can.


Dear Sara, my son is in advanced classes but he says he has too much homework…

Dear Sara,

My son Nick is 14 and in advanced classes. He constantly complains that he has too much homework and never has time for himself. I am not sure if this is true or if he is just fooling around. I feel like this is important to his future and want him to be successful. I feel bad for him but don’t know how to handle it. Help!


Dear Alice,

The best way to start might be to talk to his teachers and find out just how much homework is assigned to Nick. It may be that Nick is exaggerating or he may really have a lot to do.

College courses also have a lot of work to completed outside of the classroom, so if Nick plans to go to college then this is good training for him. He will be used to working hard to achieve his goals.

At 14 Nick may need more time to just be free to find his own interests. He is beginning to be his own person and guide his own life which might not be just exactly what you want for him. Take some time to sit with him and look at what he wants to accomplish. This will give you some idea of what he is dealing with and where he wants to go with his goals.

If you think he needs to stay in his advanced classes, you could offer some kind of reward for all of his hard work. Maybe there is something special that he would like to have or a trip this summer that he would like to take. He seems to be bogged down and may need a little something extra to motivate him.

Try some different things and see what works. Listen to what he is saying, it’s important to him.


Dear Sara, how can I protect my two and four year olds from sexual predators…

Dear Sara,

What can I do to protect my children against sexual predators? They are two and four now and will soon be ready for preschool and other activities. I know I can’t watch them all of the time. I worry that something will happen to them.


Dear Elaine,

It seems that we are much more aware of sexual abuse than earlier generations were and this is a good thing. The first line of defense is to make your children aware of good touches and bad touches and than no one (with the exceptions like their doctor) should touch them in places that their bathing suits cover. You can start talking about these things as soon as they are old enough to understand. Let them know that if someone is touching them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable, it’s OK to say “don’t do that.”

Sexual predators are often someone a child would know and trust. They are able to molest a child because they are a trusted member of society or a family member. This is very confusing to a child since he or she sees this person as someone he or she can trust.

Sometimes there are threats involved such as “I will kill you if you tell” or “I will kill your parents if tell anyone about our little secret.”

Let your children know that if someone says something like this that they should come to you right away and that you will protect them and call the police if necessary. Let them know that keeping this kind of secret from parents is a really wrong thing to do.

It is difficult to believe that someone close to you would do something like this to your child. Believe your child. Often the adult will deny their actions and the child involved is questioned as if they are not telling the truth. Children are afraid and embarrassed in the first place and then have to face adults who don’t believe them. This is very damaging to them.

Your best insurance is to keep the lines of communication open between you and your children.


Dear Sara, how can I get my kids to help out with housework…

Dear Sara,

I have a job and two kids in grade school. I am constantly running from one thing to the next and have little time for housework. My children might help out once in a while but mostly they would rather watch TV or play on the computer. How can I get them to help out at home?


Dear Janie,

You do seem to have your hands full and your children are old enough to do some chores. The best solution is to start children early and make helping out part of a family tradition but your children are probably past this age by now.

First you need to have a plan. What chores are your children capable of doing. They probably can load the dishwasher or wash dishes. Picking up the daily clutter, dusting and running the sweeper is something they can handle. Make a list of things that need to be done and give each child a choice of one or two daily chores. You could switch these around on a weekly basis so they don’t have the same chores all of the time.

They aren’t going to do these things without some reason. They will slack off pretty soon and go back to their old habits of watching TV and playing on the computer. You can give them an allowance at the end of the week (don’t forget!) and let them know that the computer and TV need to be off until chores are done. You have to consistent with your rules. If you slack off, they will too.


Dear Sara, I want to talk to my teens about sex and such but I don’t know how to start the conversation…

Dear Sara,

I have two boys and a girl, all teens now. I would like to be able to talk to them about things like sex and teen drinking but I can’t seem to get started and feel awkward when I try. What can I do to open up the lines of communication?


Dear Robbie,

Teens are in the process of breaking away from their families and forming their own identities, so you are right that they are difficult to try to talk to. Family dinner time is often a good time to initiate discussions and let them express their opinions and bounce ideas off of each other. You can then express your opinion which may differ from theirs. The tricky part is to stay away from being angry and judgmental. These things will shut down any more discussion.

There is also what I call “car therapy.” When you are in the car with one of your teens alone, you can ask open ended questions like “how are things going?” to see if they will open up to you. There will be times when you don’t get much response, but learning to listen when you do get a reply is important. It’s also important to keep what your kids tell you confidential. If you repeat what they say to anyone else they certainly won’t want to confide in you again.

The first part is to get them to feel free enough to talk. The next part is to allow them to express their opinions without being judgmental or critical and then you can begin to relate to them your values, advice and knowledge.


Dear Sara, My son’s afraid to go to the bathroom because he’s constipated…

Dear Sara,

My four year old son Chandler has always been constipated. He has gotten to point now that it hurts him to go to the bathroom and he has become afraid and this is making his problem worse. Have you got any suggestions?


Dear Laura,

There are several thins to consider here. The first thing to think about is getting more fluids into Chandler. Make sure he drinks plenty of juice and water. As food goes through the colon, the colon absorbs water. The stool then becomes dry by the time it reaches the rectum.

The second thing to consider is incorporating more fiber into Chandler’s diet. The American diet of processed foods is notoriously low in fiber. Often time children don’t want to eat their fruits and vegetables and this is where most fiber will be found. You might try things that have bran in them such as cereals or muffins. These would be a good source of fiber. (There are also chewable fiber tablets but ask your pediatrician about these first.) If you introduce fiber too quickly there may be an increase in gas production.

The third thing to consider is a stool softener. Since Chandler is only four years old you really need to talk to his pediatrician about the correct amount and dosage. It’s good to start early to relieve his constipation so it won’t be a life long problem. He will be less reluctant to go to the bathroom when he is more comfortable.


Dear Sara, my 16 year old seems to have a stalker and we don’t know what to do about it…

Dear Sara,

My daughter Kayla is 16. She is pretty and has many friends. She has a problem that we don’t know how to deal with. There is a girl in Kayla’s math class who seems to be infatuated with Kayla. She follows her around and sends notes and e-mails that are inappropriate. What can we do to discourage her?


Dear Sharon,

The teen years seem trouble free but this is far from true. Teens are between child and adult and are trying to figure out who they are. They often try on different persona and do things that are unwise. I hope that Kayla has been diplomatic and kind up until now. It’s OK for Kayla to discourage this girl by letting her know that she doesn’t share her feelings.

If this doesn’t work, you may need to contact the girl’s parents. Let them know that their daughter is making Kayla uncomfortable. If they are open and not defensive, you could suggest counseling to help their daughter. If this doesn’t work, Kayla might try the school counselor and have the counselor talk to her.

As long as there isn’t any threatening behavior there is probably nothing more that you or Kayla can do to discourage this behavior.


Dear Sara, how can I motivate my two preschool kids to one day go to college…

Dear Sara,

I have two preschool kids, Tyler and Natalie. I would like for them to go to college. I know that it’s early to be thinking about this but I want to motivate them, plus I want them to be ready when the time comes. What are some of the things that I can do to help them?


Dear Gina,

The first thing every parent should do for their child to promote life long learning is to read to them. Give them an opportunity to love books. Computers and TV will take over eventually so you need to start early.

Teach Tyler and Natalie to be curious. Give them opportunities to explore their environment. Take them for walks and help them plant some flowers. You are their first teacher. Let them know that you value learning and education.

When they start to school, make sure they complete their assignments and take an interest in what they are doing. Limit computer and TV time if you need to. They will get the idea that their education is important to you and to them.

Last but not least start a college fund for them. College is expensive and it certainly won’t hurt them to work part time to help pay for their education. The money that you put away for their education will be a big help and will send them the message that you care and that this is important to you.


Dear Sara, I’m 15 years old and just got pregnant, I’m not sure what to do…

Dear Sara,

I’m 15 years old and pregnant. I was pretty drunk when I had sex and I don’t love the boy. He said he would marry me but I don’t want to be married. I just want to stay in school and get my diploma. My Mom thinks I should get an abortion but that seems wrong to me. I’m scared of actually having the baby. What should I do?


Dear Shannon,

You are very young to have to make a decision like this and are going have to make a decision that you will have to live with for the rest of your life. Whether you decide to have the baby or not, getting your diploma is a good idea and shows that you are mature for your age.

It sounds like in your mind that you would feel guilty if you got an abortion. Is this something that you could live with? On the other hand you are scared of the labor and delivery process. This is a normal process and most women go through it without problems. It’s hard to go through this and then give up a baby for adoption but maybe this would be an option. You are very young but are the only one who can decide what is best for you. I know it will be a difficult decision but either way I hope you will be at peace with it.

Good luck.


Dear Sara, my wife and I are not sure if we should kick our 17 year old out of the house…

Dear Sara,

I have a 17 year old stepdaughter. In her past she has had cancer and at that time she regressed to her infancy for a “protection.”

She lately has outright disregard for her mothers’ and my authority. In the last week alone she has gotten into her third auto accident in six months with two separate vehicles, not coming home for one or two days and getting “busted” with some friends at a vacant home.

South Carolina law states that a minor 17 years old can leave the home of record if she wishes but the parents are still responsible if he/she does leave, but the child no matter how unruly he/she is cannot be kicked out. Sara, my wife and I are at wits end with this girl. What can we do?


Dear Bill,

Seventeen year olds are difficult to parent because they are so close to maturity but don’t have the experience to make good decisions.

It appears that South Carolina law is somewhat of a double bind where you can’t kick her out but if she decides to leave you are still responsible for her.

I’m wondering if her mother was extremely overprotective when your step daughter had cancer. If she regressed to infancy this may have put them both in a symbiotic relationship where they needed each other too much.

This could make the normal breaking away, leaving home situation for the two of them much more difficult. Also your stepdaughter was probably spoiled and coddled because her mother feared she could die. This would make her daughter think that she could get away with almost anything.

What are the consequences for your stepdaughter’s behavior? Her mother may fear giving consequences because her daughter might leave but if she has nomoney and no car she will have a
difficult time making it on her own.

It appears that she has friends who might help her out so this could be a problem as well. Even so I would try some consequences.

If you haven’t tried counseling, I would strongly suggest family counseling. This will give your stepdaughter a chance to express her point of view without anybody jumping on her or criticizing her.

You might also want to make sure that she is on birth control. She doesn’t need a baby to add to her other emotional problems.

Good luck,