Expert Answers to Parenting Questions

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    Q: Things disappear when my daughter’s friend is visiting our house and I don’t know how to handle it. I am convinced this girl (she’s 14) is stealing items from our home. She and my daughter are very good friends. I know her parents, but not very well. Where do I start?

    Perhaps the most difficult part of solving any problem is deciding ownership of a problem and then making a clear decision to hold that person accountable.

    In this case, you must first begin by sitting with your daughter and making her aware of your concerns. “I am concerned that when your friend comes over I notice that things seem to disappear.” Beginning a conversation about a problem with “I” indicates you are more interested in helping than accusing. Ask her if she has ever had a similar concern about this friend. Now it’s time to gently begin to shift the responsibility for this situation to the person it belongs by saying, “You must take responsibility for whatever or whomever you choose to bring into our home. This includes your friends. While you certainly cannot be held responsible for her behavior, you are responsible for your relationship with her and the effect that relationship has on your family.”

    Now it is time for a plan of action. Let your daughter know that if something disappears from your home when her friend returns you will not say a word but will list this item with its date of disappearance on the refrigerator. Your daughter will be responsible for bringing this to the attention of her friend and the item’s silent return.

    Continue this until either your daughter tires of being the only responsible member of this friendship or her friend sees that you are on to her (this is why you date what went missing) and changes her behavior. Of course, at some point you might need to decide that this girl simply may not come into your home any longer.

    But, if you follow through with this supportive yet firm attitude, I believe both girls will learn a lot about accountability and you will not be the one who chooses to make such a decision.

    Q: Our son has a big crush on a young adult friend of mine. He will skip events with his friends to be at our house when she’s coming over. Should I talk to my son or leave it alone completely?

    You did not mention the age of your son but this is not unusual behavior for a pubescent boy (age 10 to 14). While he is certainly not in control of the feelings and infatuation he is experiencing, he is in control of the behavior he exhibits as a result. So, let’s begin there. Without ever mentioning what you presume he might be feeling, set boundaries for his behavior ahead of time. In other words, plan for her next visit by stating what you expect. “I know you really enjoy visiting with Sally, but you have practice shortly after she arrives and I will expect you to attend practice as planned.” This subtly acknowledges his feelings but places clear boundaries on his behavior.

    Please don’t mention what you suspect to your son. This will only feel confrontational and humiliating to him. Besides, in talking with tweens and teens, it’s best to avoid argumentative language, like “I know you have a crush on her.” Try to be an observer, saying “you appear to enjoy her visits.”

    Nor should you discourage your friend’s visits. Interacting with this friend might serve as healthy training for appropriate boy-girl socializing especially when strong feelings are involved.