Q. My 14-year-old son overheard some guys he thought were his friends making jokes about him behind his back. How should he handle this?
A. When you're a boy this age the unspoken rule is that you should laugh about everything even if you're the target. So your son may feel that his only choices are to say nothing and keep the friends, tell them how he feels and get more ridicule, or stop hanging out but never tell them why. But there's a fourth way. He should approach the boy in the group with the most social control. Your son: "Dude, the guys are saying X about me. It's gotta stop." The other guy: "Shut up, we're just joking!" Your son: "Whatever. They listen to you. I want them to lay off." The problem may not go away, but your son will learn that he has the courage to face awkward situations head-on.
Q. I'm in a bind. My 12-year-old confided in my brother that she had two boys in the house when we weren't there, which is totally against our rules. She adores her uncle, and if I punish her she'll know where I got the information and stop talking to him. If I don't do anything, she'll do it again!
A. Suggest your brother have the following conversation with your daughter: "I know this is hard, but your mom needs to know about the boys in the house. So I'd like you to tell her -- alone or with me." Your daughter may respond by saying, "Do I really have to?" or "Okay, I'll do it when I'm 25." He should insist that it needs to be done within 48 to 72 hours or he will tell. I have worked with a lot of kids in your daughter's position and almost without fail after I "force" them to come clean, they're amazed at how much better it feels to confess than to wait anxiously to be caught.
Q. My 16-year-old son is involved with a very troubled girl his age. She told him she was abused as a child and he seems to think it's his job to help her get over it. I'm afraid he's getting trapped in a destructive relationship. What should I do?
A. Your son wants to be her knight in shining armor -- but I don't care how old or mature he is, that's way too much responsibility for any person. You want him to learn that one person can't take away another person's pain. Start by helping him come up with boundaries -- which you should write down. Like, all deep conversations must occur before 10 p.m. (he shouldn't be talking to her until 2 a.m.). Or, she can't stop him from spending time with other friends or threaten herself or the relationship if he does. Second, tell him that you're really proud that he wants to be a support to someone and that the best way to do that is to maintain his own emotional health. Lastly, if he's obsessed with this girl to the exclusion of his other responsibilities and interests, or is feeling overwhelmed, take him to a therapist who specializes in abuse. He'll need help coming up with an action plan.Rosalind Recommends
The Double-Daring Book for Girls, by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz (Collins, $27), is the perfect antidote to the vapid, trashy stuff marketed to girls. How could you not love a book that gives step-by-step instructions on everything from shooting pool and making a rope ladder to becoming the President of the United States? Plus, it's filled with inspiring stories of women scientists, politicians, and writers. This summer I plan to do some of the activities myself!
Q. During my 16-year-old's year-end soccer banquet the coach shocked everyone with derogatory remarks about her (and no one else). My daughter is humiliated but doesn't want to call him on it and still plans to try out for the fall. Now what?
A. Ordinarily I'd say somebody has to confront this guy -- adults should never get away with mistreating kids. But if your daughter is still against it, tell her you'll agree only if she writes a thorough list answering this question: "What kind of coach makes me feel strong, improves my game, and allows me to have fun?" Then she should write her response to: "What could the adult say or do that would leave me feeling torn down or make me stop loving this sport?" You and your daughter must have a clear understanding that if the coach does something similar to what's on the second list, one or both of you will talk to him and decide what her options are from that point, including leaving the team.
Q. I took care of my 7-year-old grandson five days a week from the time he was born until recently, and we have always been very close. Now his parents are divorcing, and he doesn't want to have anything to do with me or my husband. What can I do?
A. Sounds like he's really mad at the world right now, and the easiest and safest way to express his anger is to lash out at the people who love him unconditionally. So with that in mind, say to him, "I know things are changing because your parents are separating, but that fact doesn't take away from how much your grandfather and I love you. We totally understand if you don't want to be with us right now, but the minute you change your mind, we'll be right here." Then tell him you'd like a hug whenever he's ready. Leaving him some emotional space should bring him back to you soon.
Q. My 13-year-old, Allison, and I are sure that her best friend (also 13) stole money from her at least twice. Should we talk to her? Tell her parents?
A. This is probably the last thing your daughter wants to do, but she must address her friend directly by saying, "This is really uncomfortable, but I need to ask you something. When we were hanging out yesterday I had $20 in my purse, but after you went home it wasn't there. Did you take it?" If she admits it, Allison should thank her for the honesty and clearly state that if the friendship is going to continue, there can't be any more stealing. If the friend denies the theft, Allison should take her answer at face value but watch to see if it happens again. And lastly, if the friend flips out and "breaks up" with your daughter, Allison will know she's better off without this girl in her life.FC Recommends
For over 15 years Rosalind Wiseman has helped schools and other organizations end bullying and youth violence. In her program, students learn to take responsibility for their behavior, treat themselves and others with dignity, and speak out when they see kids being cruel to each other.
The updated edition of Wiseman's The Owning Up Curriculum (Research Press) is due out in May. The new version, which has bonus activities, works for schools and kids' groups like Scouts. Go to rosalindwiseman.com.
Originally published in the June 2009 issue of Family Circle magazine.