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Encouraging Both Good Grades and Theater Aspirations

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My 17 year-old-daughter wants to pursue a future in musical theater, however, she has refused to keep her grades up while in high school. We have stayed on top of the situation with her and her teachers to no avail. She tests well on the college boards. We want her to get a college degree while studying theater to back her up for the future. I have talked with her continually as to why this is happening with no response. She does not get in trouble and her teachers praise her as a "good kid." What do you suggest?

A: My guess is that your daughter doesn't think that she needs to focus on her high school academics because they are not relevant to her chosen career of musical theater - "Who needs algebra when I just want to sing and dance?" I understand your desire for her to get a college degree, especially since it's so difficult to carve out a successful career in the theater. Your suggestion of attending a liberal arts college that would also allow her to study theater seems reasonable. Who knows why she won't talk to you about this suggestion or her plans for fashioning a musical theater career after high school? Maybe she's afraid that she wouldn't be able to handle the academics at college. Maybe she has romantic ideas of going to New York and making it big on her own. She may not want to talk to you because she has no realistic ideas how she's going to fulfill this career goal and she does not want to reveal this ignorance to you. Regardless of what is behind her reluctance to perform well in school and to talk to you about her musical theater plans beyond high school, you and she do need to break through the silence.

I would recommend that you take her to some colleges that offer theater majors. Help her set up some interviews with college theater faculty and theater majors so that she can hear from the "horse's mouth" what it takes to be successful in college theater and professional theater. She would also benefit from talking to professionals currently working in the kind of musical theater she aspires to enter. Encourage her and help her to contact theater professionals to ask them if they could spare a half-hour to give her some advice regarding her musical theater aspirations.

If she has a passion that is fueling her musical theater aspirations, it's wise to encourage that passion. I know that doing that while you have legitimate worries about her future without a college diploma is hard to do. Maybe if you step back from what appears to be a standoff and try to help her connect with "real life" theater professionals, she will open up more to you. Your behaving in this manner might convey to her that you are really trying your best to advocate for her dreams rather than just getting her to go to college.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


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