School Is Crushing My Daughter’s Spirit. What Should I Do?

School Is Crushing My Daughter’s Spirit. What Should I Do?

School Is Crushing My Daughter’s Spirit. What Should I Do?

Another reader asks what she can do about an acquaintance who drunkenly groped her on New Year’s Eve.


Dear Liza,

I’m a single mom of four who lives in California and works 25 hours a week. Three of my children have flourished in the school system here. My 16-year-old, however, has made me think twice about public schools and their ridiculous rules.

My daughter is a beautiful soul with tons of creativity. She is respectful and smart, but she has never done well in school. In elementary school, I was told she was hyper and fidgety. In middle school, she was teased, and in high school, the bullying started. She’s now a junior with extreme anxiety about school. Over the years, I’ve learned how to calm her down in the morning, but she’s often late to class. I’ve talked with the school about the bullying and her anxiety. We’re in touch with her medical doctor, and I have her in counseling as well. I’ve tried a private tutor. I’ve also enrolled her in art classes, a gym, and now cosmetology lessons. She responds well to me, because I know how to handle her anxiety by loving her and accepting that she’s different.

I feel that all the school system wants to do is squash her spirit. We are endlessly harassed about her tardiness, even though her grades are fine and she has no discipline problems. I’ve searched for ways out, but even homeschooling is still subject to public-school laws. Do you know of any way to unschool your child and get them out of the government’s clutches?

—Free Spirit’s Mom

Dear Mom,

I should be writing to you for advice on how to handle my own teenager. Look at all the wonderful ways you’ve found to encourage your daughter’s interests, find her the mental-health care she needs, and help her get to school each morning. Everyone deserves a parent like you!

You and your daughter are both doing your best, but her school is screwing up. While parents often worry that schools aren’t developmentally appropriate for young children, we don’t worry enough about the effect of the school environment on adolescents. Austerity measures such as large class sizes, plus neoliberal education “reforms” that emphasize competition and quantitative measures of achievement, can foster anxiety, especially in already-vulnerable kids.

Teenagers need developmentally appropriate structures. Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, says having an “advisory” period each day, in which a teacher-adviser keeps an eye on students’ well-being, cuts down on bullying and gives students an advocate within the school. Pope—who is a co-founder of Challenge Success, an organization that helps parents and schools provide children a more balanced and academically fulfilling life—also points to research showing that a later start time to the school day is physically and mentally healthier for teens.

But you don’t have time to push this school for such reforms; your daughter has only a year and a half left. So ask her if there’s anything she likes about the place once she finally gets there. Friends? Art teachers? If not, Pope emphasizes, there’s no reason for her to stick it out when she has so many interests outside of school.

If she decides to leave, I doubt that you’ll need to homeschool her; for someone her age, there are other good options (most provided by the government, so don’t lose faith in the public sector yet!). If your public-school system has choices, she could perhaps transfer for the last year (if there’s a school that’s more arts-focused or otherwise better suited to her learning style). Also, you live in California, which has a fine community-college system. Many community colleges offer dual-degree programs, allowing kids who have left high school to earn their high-school equivalency and associate degrees all in one place. Or, Pope adds, your daughter could simply leave high school, “take the GED, and be done.”

Dear Liza,

I celebrated New Year’s Eve with friends at an open-bar event. As is often the case in such situations, we imbibed a good deal. Just before midnight, I went to the restroom, where I waited in a long line. As I was nearing the front, my friend’s husband (let’s call him “Brad”) appeared behind me and groped me. When the next bathroom opened up, I ran in. I was mortified, and told my husband about it when we got home.

I’m conflicted over whether to say anything to my friend or Brad. He’s never done anything like this before and was very inebriated. That’s no excuse, but while I’m still uncomfortable, I can get over it—especially if I never see signs of inappropriate behavior from him again. My husband feels I’m owed an apology. I agree, but I also think it’s likely that Brad doesn’t remember any of this. I don’t want to make a big deal of the incident and cause my friend unnecessary distress. I don’t like not telling her, but assuming this is one-off behavior on Brad’s part, is it worth embarrassing her and, truthfully, myself?

Anguished Celebrant

Dear Anguished,

Your husband is right that you deserve an apology. But it’s your call. Sometimes, we rightly feel a social responsibility to report or confront a predator, and friendship may require us to rat on a badly behaving partner. Often, we owe it to ourselves to speak out when our rights are violated. But I don’t think any of these obligations apply here. I don’t sense that you want the apology badly enough to endure the unpleasant process of pursuing it. Also, there’s no evidence this guy is a dangerous or chronic groper. By confronting either your friend or her husband, you risk enlisting two women in unrewarding emotional labor. Neither of you deserves the angst or the hassle. I don’t believe women have a responsibility to provide moral guidance for men unless we are their moms. I say let it go, if that’s your inclination, and start the New Year without drama.

Have a question? Ask Liza here.

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