Q. My 14-year-old daughter calls me her best friend. While I like it, I'm concerned she's depending on me too much. How do I encourage her to have her own pals?
A. First off, could you be jumping to conclusions? Parents often worry that their children are having problems when they don't have a large group of friends. Some kids are social butterflies, but others are more comfortable being close to just a few people -- and those friendships are usually really strong. If your daughter has only a few friends and she feels good around those people, don't worry about it. If she has no friends, involve her in activities outside of school -- art lessons, for example -- so she can have relationships with other people and isn't totally dependent on you.
Q. I feel like I live in the local teen center -- my 16-year-old son and his friends hang out in my house day and night. I'm glad they're comfortable with us -- and I like knowing where my son is. But sometimes it's too much. What should I do?
A. This is one of those "be careful what you wish for" situations. You need to analyze why the kids are drawn to your house. Is it that your home is warm and welcoming -- or because you're too preoccupied doing other things to supervise? Or is your family room isolated from the rest of the house? Kids can have some privacy, but you need to drop by every hour or so, as in, "I'm making popcorn. Anybody want some?" Scan the room, look directly in their eyes, take in the vibe, smell the air.
Since you're the adult, you get the final say on how long they stick around. When you're ready to go to bed, everybody goes home -- you should have curfews for your kids and your house. The only time to break that rule is if one of your son's friends needs a safe haven.
Q. My 12-year-old son is really shy and just started a new school. A coworker's son goes there. Would it be okay if I invited him over?
A. Go ahead, but be careful not to go overboard trying to be the perfect parent or forcing your son to adopt a fake persona. And don't kiss up to the other kid by taking them to an arcade an hour away from home, either. Tell your child that you don't expect them to be best friends after this one visit, and that if it doesn't go well, he doesn't have to do it again. You don't want to put too much pressure on him. Instead, give him the opportunity and freedom to make friends on his terms.
Q. My daughter didn't get a part in the class play, even though she's very talented. I think the adviser has something against her. Should I talk to him?
A. You shouldn't approach this guy -- unless you want to come across as a crazy parent and deprive your daughter of the opportunity to advocate for herself. Instead, sit down with her and help her clarify why she's disappointed, decide what she wants, and figure out when and where to approach the adviser. She should then call or e-mail him to arrange a meeting. There, she can express her disappointment and ask what she can do to have a better chance in the future. Whatever he says, you both have to live with the answer.
Your child has to experience frustration and deal with difficult people. And she must learn that you handle people and problems the same way regardless of the circumstances.