- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 2, 2009

Q. Our 12-year-old son likes a girl in the neighborhood who is in his grade in school. His friend called the girl on his cell phone and dared our son to talk with her, so he did. We found out and told him it’s OK to like a girl and have a pleasant conversation with her in a group situation like recess, but he is too young to call her at home or say she is his girlfriend. Do you agree?

A. Well, yes, I agree, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how you intend to enforce the boundaries you’ve put on this (probably) very innocent relationship. How are you going to make sure he doesn’t conspire to, say, meet her at the movies? And how, pray tell, are you going to make sure he doesn’t ever call her his girlfriend?

I think you’re getting yourselves in over your head here, setting up rules you can’t enforce. In so doing, you run the very real risk of pushing your son into engaging in deceit. By establishing rules you can’t enforce, you’ve broadcast your anxieties to your son and invited him to rebel.

In the first place, I can’t imagine your anxiety is warranted. The likelihood is smaller than small that this is anything more than “puppy love,” a crush that will run its course without any effort on your part. In the second place, the less you say about this, the better.

If I was the parent in this situation, I’d simply tell my son I expect him to treat the young lady with respect, both when he’s in her company and when he is not. I’d tell him feelings of attraction between boys and girls his age are completely normal and if he has feelings he wants to talk about, I am completely open to such conversations.

In other words, I wouldn’t establish boundaries unless it was obvious boundaries were needed, and I’d invite a broader discussion on the issue of male-female relationships. This is an opportunity. Don’t waste it!

Q. We just discovered our 10-year-old daughter has been assigned to a third-grade teacher whom we feel is not a good “fit” for her. This teacher has a reputation for being very demanding and impatient. Our daughter is very sensitive and has had some academic difficulties in the past. Should we ask the principal to transfer her to a teacher who’s a bit more flexible?

A. I would strongly advise against it. In the top-secret manual, “The Good Principal’s Guide To Dealing With Pushy Parents,” a copy of which I obtained from sources that must remain unnamed, Article One states: “Do not cave in to parents who request that their little darlings be assigned to the teachers of their choosing.” I’m not saying you’re pushy or that you regard your daughter as anything akin to a “little darling,” mind you, but you invite those perceptions by making such a request.

A principal who grants one such request is going to be inundated with them. Better to nip such a parent uprising in the bud, or so the manual states. Furthermore, every transfer can be interpreted, rightly or wrongly, as undermining the authority and reputation of the teacher to whom the child originally was assigned.

I’m not denying your daughter might do better with another teacher, but then, that’s life, and I am going to be bold enough to suggest your daughter is old enough to begin learning that sometimes life deals you the hand you want, and sometimes it doesn’t. Besides, demanding teachers bring out the best in most kids. In any case, your job is to never let your daughter know you would rather she was in another teacher’s class.

Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).

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