Sunday, August 1, 2010

When not to talk to your parents

We'll admit it: the main reason Ashley and I thought we'd be good at an advice column is that we play the "How would you answer this question?" game with existing advice columns. Sure, when we do that, we get to pick and choose which questions we answer. But, let's face it, advice columnists do tend to drop the ball sometimes on younger readers' questions.

Ask Amy, for example, has a tendency to side against teenagers or to always, by default, tell them to come clean to their parents, even when it isn't relevant and we don't think it would help. Take the second letter in this column from her archives. Basically, a 17-year-old girl flirted with her 24-year-old stylist during a hair appointment.
I loved the attention, so I wrote my phone number on his tip.When he actually called that night and asked me to meet him at a party in the city, I was totally taken aback and told him I was busy. He asked me to call him this weekend to set something else up.I'm freaking out because I have absolutely no desire to ever go out with a man six years older who seems to think it's fine for a high school girl to meet up with him on a Thursday night in the city! I can't tell my mom because he does her hair. I can never go back there. What if he calls again?
Amy, of course, advises her to tell her mom:
Of course you can tell your mom — and you should. We moms really don't like it when trusted adults hit on our daughters. I realize that many women absolutely love their hair stylists, but we love our daughters more. You can assume your mother will deal with him directly. [...]If this guy calls, tell him, "I'm sorry, I don't know what I was thinking. You're way too old for me. I only go out with guys my age."The "you're way too old for me" line will give this obnoxious guy something to think about.
We don't think it would. (This is an old column, but for the sake of argument, we'll pretend the drama is current.)

Ashley: She needs to learn how to deal with this situation, because it will come up again. It doesn't matter if you're 17 or 24.

Lulu: Right. She gave her number to a guy and then regretted it; it happens. Her mom doesn't need to be involved. The sooner she learns to do this on her own, the better.

Ashley: And there's nothing "obnoxious" about a guy asking out a girl who gave him her number. The age thing isn't so bad. In a year, she'll be 18. 18 and 25 is okay, I've seen that work. The age is a red herring. She just needs to turn him down.

Lulu: Not calling back is a tried and true way to make it clear you're not really interested.

Ashley: So is telling him.

Lulu: Sure. But given that he's put the ball in her court, I don't think she needs to go out of her way to turn him down.

Ashley: If she does talk to him again, she shouldn't give age as a reason. It would come off as weird.

Lulu: Right, and I feel like referencing her age would give him a foothold to make an argument, because it doesn't sound like a real answer. It feels like a line she's being fed by an adult. There are better, easier ways to blow someone off. "Sorry, I can't." "No thanks."

Ashley: "I really enjoyed talking to you the other day, but I'm actually seeing someone."

Lulu: I like that one. Even if she isn't, he can't disprove it. Even if she mentioned she was single when they flirted, she could have met someone since then. It happens! And it saves face for both of them.

Other times, columnists may give sound advice, but overlook glaring issues that would be relevant for teenagers. For example, we like that Dear Prudence once advised a 16-year-old not to tell her mother she was buying a vibrator. (Do you sense a theme?)
Masturbation is perfectly normal, and a teenager doesn't need to check in with her mother before engaging in it. It's wonderful that you and your mother are so close that you feel you can talk to her about this—but just because you can doesn't mean you should. Part of your job as a teenager is to start separating from your mother, and masturbation may be a good place for you to establish a zone of privacy.
We agree with this, but--while it's not stated directly--we suspect the letter writer may have been considering telling her mother because she couldn't think of any other way to acquire a vibrator. Some sex shops have minimum age requirements, and most people don't have access to a local sex shop--just the Internet. And while the Internet is a great resource, you need your own debit card to buy anything, and you need an address where people aren't likely to be too inquisitive about what packages you're receiving. Many sixteen-year-olds might not have this. The unasked question is, "Should I tell my mother, or if not, HOW do I get a vibrator?"

We think we would need more specifics about her situation to give her a good answer, but our advice, generally: since the mom in question is unlikely to freak out about the vibrator if she finds out about it, you don't have to go into super-stealth mode, just be evasive enough to give her plausible deniability. If you need to borrow her debit card, say you want to buy a bunch of stuff from, and throw a vibrator in with lots of little cheap things that add up. Makeup, in particular, can vary so much in price, that it can really mask an additional purchase. You heard it here first.

We do like the advice columns, and we think they do a lot of things well. Marriage and divorce questions, for example, are not really in our wheelhouse, and are often handled well. But younger writers are often dismissed because of their age or inexperience. Their time in life does affect some very important practical elements of their lives, but such as it's possible, it's appropriate for them to start handling their own drama.

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