In “Teenage Wasteland” by Anne Tyler, the main character, Daisy, struggles with her son’s lack of academic motivation and his increasingly significant at-risk behaviors. The author portrays Daisy as a good parent who does all of the traditional things a parent does to help a struggling child. Daisy “doesn’t let her son Donny watch TV on school nights or talk on the phone until he is finished with his homework.” She checks his assignments every day and sits next to him while he is working. Daisy even blames herself at times, worrying that she didn’t give Donny enough attention when he was younger. When none of these strategies improve Donny’s behavior, the principal suggests a visit with the school psychologist, who recommends Donny work with a tutor experienced with at-risk students. Although Daisy has reservations about the new tutor, Cal, she sees that Donny connects with him, and she allows their sessions to continue. However, Donny continues to spiral into more significant academic and behavioral problems. Eventually, Daisy ends Donny’s sessions with Cal. Instead of protesting, Cal labels Donny as emotionally disturbed and states that he couldn’t help him anyway. Donny later vanishes.
Daisy’s attempts to help Donny are unsuccessful. Cal suggests to Daisy that Donny feels that she and her husband hover over him and give him no autonomy. As Daisy speaks about Donny’s issues, she never mentions talking to Donny about the problem or having true conversations with him, supporting Cal’s assessment. Although Cal does appear to make Donny feel heard, he later labels him as a problem. Cal accuses Daisy of controlling Donny, yet does the same thing with his rules and expectations. At no point is Donny given the support or tools to fix his own problems. When Donny gets expelled and Cal blames the school, it is evident that Donny has never been held accountable for his own actions.