DEAR HARRIETTE: My 14-year-old daughter was hanging out with her girlfriend at home, and they were supposed to be doing homework. When I went in the room and asked what they were doing, I got a lot of nothing in terms of an answer, followed by the admission that they were about to watch Netflix. My daughter knows what she was asked to do. In front of her friend she tried to act like it was annoying for me to ask her questions about her homework. I did not press the issue more than to say that if they weren’t doing homework in the next few minutes, the visit would be over. I know my daughter was trying to act as though she’s in control. She is not. How can I reinforce our house rules without embarrassing her? -- Out of Bounds, Pittsburgh
DEAR OUT OF BOUNDS: It’s good strategy on your part to give her some wiggle room to save face with her friend, at least this time. A teenager’s job is to jockey for independence, which usually includes pushing back against whatever a parent has to say. To the extent that you can keep your disciplining private, you may have better results with your daughter.
When alone, reinforce what your expectations are of your daughter, including the tone of voice she uses to communicate with you and the timeliness of her responses. Make it clear that if she does not adhere to your rule of putting homework first, she will lose the privilege of hanging out with her friends.
DEAR HARRIETTE: My father is getting up in age and has become crotchety. It feels like everything is a problem for him, and he can’t resist complaining whenever any topic comes up. It’s almost like he’s complaining for sport. I like to be peaceful -- and always have. I don’t appreciate having to be on the defensive whenever I talk to him. What can I do or say to get him to let up on the negative chatter? -- Over the Hill, Boston
DEAR OVER THE HILL: Now is the time to use your powers of patience to support your father and yourself. It will be great if you can ignore your father when he slips into nonstop complaining. Let him talk and tune him out -- his complaints, at least -- to the best of your ability. When you feel you have had enough, change the subject. Interrupt your father and tell him a story. Make one up if you need to. Recall a fairy tale or something that is vividly descriptive and will capture his imagination.
Keep the stories going by offering to read them to him when you visit. Choose fairy tales, dramas, mysteries --stories with enough simple intrigue that they hold his attention.
As people get older, they often respond to the very things that captivate children. Use stories and other activities, such as walks in the park, trips to the museum or bowling to get his mind on something interesting. Sign him up for elder day care if you have a center near his home. Being involved in outside activities may help to stimulate his mind toward positive thoughts.
(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to email@example.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)