DEAR HARRIETTE: I am a mother to three daughters, ages 10, 15 and 18. My 15-year-old daughter has been acting up recently. Her grades have dropped, and I am worried that she is not hanging out with the right crowd. We always get into arguments, and she occasionally tells me that she hates me.
I never went through this with my oldest daughter, and I am worried that the 15-year-old is setting a bad example for my youngest daughter. How do I communicate with my daughter without having another argument? -- Helpless Mother, Queens, N.Y.
DEAR HELPLESS MOTHER: Telling your daughter that she may be a bad influence is unlikely to make her shape up. Instead, start a dialogue with her. Speak calmly and with as much love as you can muster. Your daughter's change in habits indicates that her lifestyle has changed. You must find out how. Ask her how you can support her in her schoolwork, perhaps with a tutor or other type of help. Question her carefully about her friends.
Be strong with her. Let her know that you are concerned about her welfare and that you do not want to argue with her, but that you are not sure how to help. Tell her you have heard stories of other families in which it was difficult for mothers and daughters to get along. Express your desire that this not happen to the two of you.
Finally, establish clear boundaries. If she is unwilling to curtail her behavior and redesign her time so that she can comply with your family values, she must suffer consequences. Otherwise, it will all be talk. Get ready to delineate those consequences by seeking help from your minister, a guidance counselor at school (when school resumes) or an independent counselor.
DEAR HARRIETTE: A friend of mine has been looking for a job for a few months after being laid off from his previous job. After another failed job interview, he came to visit me for some coffee.
When I answered the door, I was shocked to find my friend dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. I asked him if he went to the interview like that, and he informed me that he goes to all his interviews in jeans. He obviously was also not wearing deodorant, as he smelled really bad.
He is sensitive and vulnerable because he is not getting any jobs, so how do I tell him that if he dressed better he would have a better chance at getting employed? -- Can't Believe My Eyes, Washington, D.C.
DEAR CAN'T BELIEVE MY EYES: Tough love is called for in this situation. Tell your friend that you think he needs to get his act together before he goes back out on an interview. That means taking a shower, putting on a suit and brushing up on his interviewing skills. Otherwise, it's likely he will be unemployed indefinitely.