Q. Once or twice a week my 16-year-old crashes at his friend's house after their band practice. I don't want to force him to come home so I usually allow it, but I also don't want him to feel like he can just live at this kid's house. What should I do?
A. While in theory there's nothing wrong with your son wanting to stay over at his friend's house, my alarm bells are going off because he's doing it so often. No matter what, your son needs a regular curfew. And you should ask him whether he's avoiding your home, and why, and be prepared to listen to what he tells you. Also check for signs of drug or alcohol use, like small or dilated pupils or breath that is a little too minty fresh. I don't want to freak you out or make wild assumptions about your son, but I think there are two likely explanations for his behavior. Either he's escaping your home because someone is making him feel unsafe, or he wants to drink or get high without having to deal with you.
Q. In the seven years since my divorce, I've never had a man stay over in my home. Now I'm in a relationship and I'd like to have the guy spend the night sometimes. But I'm worried my 14-year-old son will be upset. How can I prepare him? I don't want to just say, "This is my house and this is what I want."
A. You're right. This isn't one of those "It's my house" moments. Unless you're in a long-term relationship, you shouldn't have a man spend the night because your primary responsibility is your son, not your sex life. Even then, before a man walks in with his toothbrush and pajamas, talk to your son about your intentions and ask him how he feels. Your goal is to communicate two things: what you want (without giving him inappropriate information about your relationship) and that you recognize how difficult this situation could be.
Then start small. Invite your date over for a family dinner. Next time, have dinner and then watch a movie. Overall, your duty to your child is to provide as home where he feels comfortable. As long as he's uneasy, you have to wait until he is more accepting, you're married, or he isn't living with you.
Q. My 12-year-old daughter and her best friends got into a fight and now they aren't speaking. Trouble is, we carpool. How do I preserve the peace in the car?
A. First, prepare your daughter to confront the other girl by helping her articulate her feelings, acknowledge anything she did that contributed to the conflict, and decide whether she wants to maintain the friendship. Then, next time you have both girls in the car, tell them, "I'm sorry you're fighting. You don't have to be friends, but you do have to treat each other civilly."
Or you could be creative and turn on the radio and sing loudly along with an uncool song (something like "The Wind Beneath My Wings"). Yes, you'll embarrass your daughter, abut you also may unite the girls as they laugh at you. Then go get gas and leave them alone in the car. While you pump they can go from talking about you to making up or coming to a truce.