Wednesday 1 March 2017

My daughter has moved in with her father to escape studying, what should I do?

David Coleman

David Coleman

Exam success:
but trying to
enforce a study
schedule on
your child may
backfire
Exam success: but trying to enforce a study schedule on your child may backfire

I have a 17-year-old daughter doing her leaving certificate this year. My problem is that I am separated from my daughter's father. She has rebelled against my efforts to get her to focus on her study by moving in with her father until after the exams. My concern is that she will lose focus as her dad lives 50 miles from her school and they both believe that she can prepare for the leaving while travelling this distance.



She will not discuss how impractical the arrangement is. Her father is encouraging her behaviour and they claim it will all be fine. The school say they cannot interfere, though they have pointed out to her father that she cannot afford to miss any time in school. I am at my wits' end. How do I get her to see sense and move home until the leaving is over without increasing the stress leading up to the exam? Any advice would help greatly.

It may be very hard to see your daughter's behaviour as anything but rebellion, but perhaps it is worth considering it as a proactive choice by a young woman taking ownership of her life.

Not every youngster has the option of moving out if they disagree with their parents' approach to an issue but in this case your daughter does.

Maybe she sees her move to live with her father as a positive step to give her some headspace and some freedom to study as she chooses rather than according to a schedule that you insist upon.

You also seem worried that her dad is complicit in her plans to abdicate all responsibility and flunk out. Is there any evidence her studying or exam preparation has suffered since she moved out?

Her dad is, after all, an equal parent and I am sure that, like you, he has his daughter's interests at heart.

I imagine that the extra travel does lengthen her school day. But is she any more tired? Or has she started to miss school because she is arriving late?

Even if she does have to travel more it sounds like it is a price she feels is worth paying to be allowed to make some more of her own decisions about how she approaches the preparation for her exams.

Clearly, you have your own ideas about how much study she should be doing, no doubt based on your own experience as a student and messages schools give about typical study approaches for youngsters.

As ever, we need to find the right balance between applying a bit of external motivation for students to study and helping them to find the internal motivation to want to study themselves.

It may be that you haven't quite found balance with your daughter? Perhaps she feels you are deciding too much about what she 'should' be doing. Rather than finding your efforts to get her to focus helpful, she seems to be reacting against them.

Perhaps, in fact, your efforts to motivate her have become counter-productive.

Maybe, when she lived with you, she wasn't studying to prove to you that you couldn't control her life!

Unfortunately, in your particular family situation, she also had the opt-out clause of escaping from your attempts to keep her focused on the exams. This means that you and she never got to work out the issues and resolve them and find the balance.

However, I am not sure if spiting you is the most important factor in her decision to move in with her father either. I wonder if she feels that her father understands her better and treats her with greater respect?

At age 17, she probably feels she should make her own decisions and perhaps her father allows her greater freedom to do so?

Naturally, 17-year-olds who make independent decisions will sometimes make bad choices and that is why most parents still try to influence the decisions that they make. In fairness to us, we do have a lot of experience and wisdom and often we can see more long-term consequences that teenagers fail to consider.

You seem convinced that her father is taking a hands-off approach to her studies but perhaps he is encouraging her to work, but not forcing her. Perhaps he has helped her to see why it is in her own interests to study by sparking some desire in her to pursue a future beyond school.

Moving home with you will only be in her best interests if the conflict between you and her reduces. There is little point in her coming home just to fight with you and to end up not studying to prove some point.

I think you are the one who will have to hold out the olive branch to your daughter. I think you need to let her make more choices about her studies.

She may indeed make bad choices, but all you can do is to offer her the guidance and show her the potential outcomes for the choices she makes.

By doing this you show her you care for her and her future but you also recognise you can't control her life or her decisions.

How well she does in the exams will be a result of her innate ability, how much preparation she has done and a little bit of luck on the day. As you have discovered you have very little power to control any of these elements. Indeed, she is the only one who can really take charge of her preparation and she needs encouragement and support rather than coercion to do so.

If she feels you understand her better and that you are willing to respect her decisions more, then she may also see the practical benefits of being closer to school. Moving home in those circumstances would be the pragmatic thing to do.

However, hard and all as it may be, you might have to accept that even that is a decision she will make for herself.



David Coleman is a clinical psychologist, broadcaster and author



Queries and issues can only be addressed through the column and David regrets he cannot enter into personal correspondence

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