Q. My son is a stellar athlete and student and has lots of friends. We've always had a zero-tolerance alcohol policy, but lately he's been binge drinking. He says he'll be on his own at college next year and we should accept that he's going to do what he wants. What should his consequences be now?
A. I think your son's accomplishments are blinding you to how he's rationalizing his behavior. So tell him that your rules still stand. But you have a bigger problem. You need to get him into counseling right now while you have some control. Binge drinking will kill his brain cells and liver cells—and he's not going to get those back. Beyond that, a person's decision-making can be so impaired that he makes incredibly dumb or dangerous choices. For more information, contact the National Alcohol and Substance Abuse Drug Addiction Help and Information Center (addict-help.com/bingedrinking.asp) or the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (casacolumbia.org).
Q. My best friend, Beth, signed her daughter up on Facebook and had her send me a friend request. I denied it because I feel an 11-year-old shouldn't be using the site. Beth and I ended up in a heated argument. What's your take on the situation?
A. I want you to think beyond "Eleven is too young," even though I agree with you. Here's the thing. The girl is already signed up. And she has invited you, an adult, to see what's going on in her life. That reflects well on you, so you might want to reconsider. If you do change your mind, just be sure to customize your privacy settings so she can see only limited information. I'm not assuming you're posting pictures of the crazy party you went to last weekend, but you never know.
You also need to get to a better place with Beth. If you were harsh with her, I would apologize and explain your motivations. (Try not to sound like you're reprimanding her, and bear in mind that she may be feeling defensive about her parenting and protective of her child.) Finish up the conversation by being clear that you want a relationship with this child, she can e-mail you anytime, and you'd love to hang out in real life.
Q. No matter what I say or do, it's wrong, according to my 14-year-old. I don't know how to talk to her so she's not angry at me. Any ideas? Or is it just teenage hormones?
A. Sit down with your daughter and say, "I'm giving you three minutes to tell me exactly what I do that irritates you so much, and I promise not to interrupt you. After that, I get three minutes to explain what's behind my annoying behavior, and you can't interrupt. Then we'll write down what we heard, and take turns saying what we wrote." Explain that you have two goals: to figure out what's creating so much friction, and to come up with a new strategy. For example, maybe the two of you could invent a code word or signal to let each other know when you're doing the things that are a problem. Conclude by telling her, "The bottom line is I need you to communicate your feelings without being rude, because no matter what your age or the situation there's never an excuse for bad manners."
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Originally published in the June 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.