Hi Harlan,

I have two daughters currently attending a local community college. One has been enrolled for one year, and the other for three years. They are not making any progress and have dropped most of the courses they took. They start the beginning of the semester all charged up, but end up not following through on the coursework and dropping most of the classes so they do not fail. Any idea of what to do? They do not seem to have identified their passion in life. I am a single dad and cooperate with my ex-wife.

Discouraged Dad

Dear Discouraged Dad,

Why do you think your daughters so afraid of failing? Are they afraid of failing you? Your ex? Themselves? Strangers? They are so worried about failing that they’re not living life. At this point, failing a course would be better than not completing it. Your goal for them should be simple — complete something. Finishing means having an experience. Experiences will help them figure what they like and don’t like. Learning from their missteps will help them find their path. Make the goal doing something. Donmake it about you or your ex-wife. Make it about one thing — finishing something for themselves. As they take risks, give them access to experts who can help them find answers and direction. Experts such as a career counselor, a professional mentor and a mental-health professional. They might discover that they’re struggling with more than a lack of motivation. There could be a medical condition like attention-deficit disorder or mental-health issue. If they’re not financially independent, start to ease the dependence. Force them to get a job. A job will offer an experience. Any experience will help. Create conditions for them to take risks and see what happens. Avoid getting frustrated or disappointed. Be hopeful and encouraging. They need you to believe in them for them to believe in themselves.

Attention Readers: Are you a formerly unmotivated student who somehow found his or her passion? Question: What can a single dad do to help his daughters discover their passions? What did you do? What did your father do? Send your reply to: [email protected], Subject: Help For Dad With Unmotivated Student.

Dear Harlan,

What should you expect if you’ve never dated anyone? I’d like to have a relationship, but I’m not sure how to go about doing it or how to maintain it. I’m 19 and new to it all. Any suggestions?


Dear Inexperienced,

Expect to be bad at first. Most people aren’t good at anything at first. Look for partners who also are bad at dating, willing to get good or willing to teach you. Most partners will appreciate your lack of experience — that is, if you’re being truthful with them. This means telling someone you’re dating, “I have to be honest — I’m new at this.”

Use your inexperience as a strength and learn as you go.

The opposite approach would be pretending to know what you’re doing and always wondering what you’re doing wrong. Find someone who is interested in teaching you or learning with you. Do this with a few different partners and you will figure out what you like and what you don’t like. Then you’ll be a professional — you can even be a teacher.

Harlan is the author of “The Happiest Kid On Campus: A Parent’s Guide to the Very Best College Experience (for You and Your Child)” (Sourcebooks). Write Harlan at [email protected] or visit online: www.helpmeharlan.com. All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan! 2506 N. Clark St., Ste. 223, Chicago, IL 60614.

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