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Parenting Dilemmas and How to Make Things Right

Raising teens and tweens is a constant challenge, and since you're only human, mistakes will happen. Below, six parenting dilemmas, along with smart advice on how to make things right.
Teens
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Avery Powell

My son's soccer coach never puts my 12-year-old, Luke, on the field. After seeing my son sit out yet another game, I shot off a ranting e-mail to a fellow team mom and accidentally sent it to...the coach! Now he's taking it out on Luke, who hasn't a clue about what I did. Is it possible to fix this mess?

Meet with the coach as soon as possible to say you're sorry and explain that Luke doesn't know about the e-mail. If the coach accepts the apology, use the occasion to inquire what your son needs to do to get more playing time. It's up to you whether to fess up to Luke about your blooper so he'll understand he's not responsible for the way the coach has been acting. But do relay to him the advice for improving his game, and suggest that he speak to the coach directly. "Twelve is a good age for a child to start advocating for himself," says Kay Abrams, Ph.D., a Maryland psychologist who specializes in adolescent parenting issues. "When a young person is able to acknowledge his shortcomings and turn to grown-ups for help, it's a real sign of maturity." If problems persist, it may be time to scout around for a new soccer league -- or another sport.

I was worried that my daughter Zoe wasn't going to be invited to a Sweet Sixteen party (she and the girl are on-and-off-again friends). I called the girl's mom to say how much I hoped Zoe would be included and asked her to keep my request private. She told her daughter anyway, who then told Zoe. Now she's furious with me for butting in. Help!

As painful as it is to see your child suffer rejection, interfering only makes the situation worse. Admit to Zoe that you overstepped your boundaries and promise not to do it again. "It's easier to back off if you remind yourself that it's not your social life," says Roni Cohen-Sandler, Ph.D., author of "Trust Me, Mom -- Everyone Else Is Going!" "Teens need to cope with disappointments on their own so they can develop the inner resources to deal with them." Oh, and one more thing. "Don't count on other parents to keep secrets," she says. "It rarely works."

My 14-year-old wanted to know what I was so engrossed by on my e-reader, so I told her it was an Edith Wharton novel. When I left the room, she snuck a peek and saw I was reading Fifty Shades of Grey. She called me out on the lie, and now I'm mortified. What's my next move?

Just be honest -- and have a sense of humor about it. "Tell your daughter you fibbed because you were embarrassed," says Cohen-Sandler. If she expresses interest in reading it, say something like, "It's sexually explicit and not appropriate for someone your age." This can also be a good time to have another impromptu talk about sex in general -- or, perhaps, suggest renting The Age of Innocence and watching it together.

Our tweens overheard me and my husband having a big fight about money. When he said we couldn't go on a vacation this year, I screamed I was sorry I married him. Now the girls think we're getting divorced.

Not to worry -- your daughters won't be scarred for life. "Serious damage occurs only when parents are arguing constantly," says Abrams. "But it's important to talk about your dispute rather than pretend it didn't happen. Otherwise, kids will think scary things are going on behind the scenes." Reassure your daughters that, just like kids, grown-ups sometimes fight, but it's not the end of the world. Acknowledge that your behavior was wrong -- as well as frightening -- and promise that you'll try not to do it again. It's also time to make amends with your husband. Once you do, says Abrams, "have him explain to the girls that he understands you were reacting in the heat of the moment and that he forgives you."

I'd heard from other parents that there was a lot of sexting going on in my son's 11th-grade class. I secretly checked his cell phone and was relieved not to find anything, but then I accidentally erased all his messages! I know I should come clean, but how do I explain my snooping?

Your crime isn't spying; it's that you didn't set a policy ahead of time about what is or isn't considered private when it comes to your son's cell phone. While teens regard these devices to be as personal as diaries, "the fact is some parents do look at their kids' texts and call logs," says Neil Bernstein, Ph.D., author of How to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can't. "As long as you're not doing it frequently without cause, that's okay. State your policy from the start, explaining that it's for their own safety and protection." Apologize to your son for erasing his texts, but tell him you reserve the right to make spot checks. You'll have more peace of mind, and you won't be violating his trust: a win-win situation.

The other night my 17-year-old was rude and defiant when my husband asked him to put down his video game and start studying for his history test. I flew into a tirade, calling him a loser and saying he'd never get into college given his poor grades. He hasn't forgiven me. Even worse, I fear I've damaged his self-esteem, which was fragile to begin with.

We've all been there, so try not to beat yourself up. Your outburst is understandable, and no doubt stemmed from several things: your son's disrespectful attitude, his ongoing irresponsibility about studying, your growing frustration and anxiety about his grades. "Calmly explain all of that to him, but also acknowledge that your hurtful comments were wrong," says Bernstein. "Point out that while you don't doubt his intelligence, he absolutely needs to work harder." Then set up some clear rules about how much screen time he's allowed on school nights -- and only once homework is finished. "Specify the consequences for breaking the rules in advance," Bernstein adds. "That way you'll be able to impose them calmly, without any emotional tirades. Everyone will benefit."

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.