While I’m away, readers give the advice.
On securing guns in households with children: I accidentally shot myself in the leg as a 12-year-old — after engaging in an extended search for the combination to my father’s safe. (Top left drawer under the glasses case where’s yours?)
To gain access to something as potent and forbidden as a gun, I would wager that other young people have been as determined as I was, irrespective of parental warnings.
On guiding kids through a taste for offensive music: I recommend three ways to help children choose more appropriate and life-affirming music:
(1) Print out the lyrics to several of their favorite songs and read them together. Discuss the meanings and the messages (they most likely aren’t paying attention to the words or don’t understand the inferences). Talk to them about whether or not these messages fit within their moral and ethical codes.
(2) Watch the videos with them. Discuss what they see — are the men fully clothed while the women are practically naked? What does that show about women and how the men see them? Are the men brandishing guns? Showing drug use?
(3) Help them find musicians whose lyrics and videos are appropriate for their ages and fit within their belief system. They are out there.
I did a project like this with my juniors when I taught high school English, and it was eye-opening for them.
We had many lively discussions, and more than one student chose to stop listening to certain songs or supporting misogynistic, racist, hate-mongering musicians.
On being the alcoholic who is constantly offered drinks: I just tell people I’ve already used up my lifetime supply, and they laugh and let it go.
On buffering kids from obnoxious relatives: People underestimate their power as parents to influence their children, and do not need to fear the effect of inappropriate gifts and the stupid things that come out of the mouths of rogue family members. They can counteract that nonsense with a few well-chosen words, and be confident their children will hear them.
When I was a child, most of my relatives were a joy to be around, but we did have one toxic aunt. My mother would simply dismiss what she said, saying afterward: “I don’t know where Aunt XXXX gets these things. She makes no sense at all.”
Children also need to learn that sometimes adults act like bad examples and say things that are senseless or untrue. The ability to separate and ignore stupidity is a life skill worth developing.
On enduring the complaints of the fortunate: As one of the lucky, happily married affluents, I find that sometimes I can’t win in conversations with relatives and casual friends. If I even mention events in my life that the other person cannot afford, I’m “bragging.” If I admit that something in my life is bugging me, I’m “whiny.” If I redirect the conversation to the other person’s life after a modest nonanswer, I’m being “secretive.”
I realize that tone of voice and exact wording are very important, but I have come to the conclusion that some people will see bragging or whininess regardless of my tone and words.
The Other Side
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at washingtonpost.com.