Our 15-year-old daughter is very headstrong. She’s never been in real trouble, but she bristles against rules and authority: curfews, homework, appropriate clothing — you name it! Recently, she exploded when her younger brothers discovered her journal in the family room. Now, she keeps it locked in a heavy black box she found at a secondhand store. The problem: The black box turns out to be a gun safe! (A friend of my husband told us.) We’re not worried that she has a gun; she helped organize a school rally to tighten our state’s gun laws. But she refuses to give up the safe, and we don’t want it in our house. Help!
Conflicts with adolescents can be like endless games of tug of war. And the older (and stronger) they become, the less likely a winner is to emerge. It sounds as if your daughter was really upset that her brothers invaded the privacy of her diary. Still, as parents of minor children, it’s your right — and responsibility, actually — to set reasonable limits about what happens in your home.
Bear with me now: Stop tugging on that rope! Acknowledge your daughter’s valid distress and ask her to help you solve your problem with the gun safe in light of your shared philosophy about guns. Let her stash the diary elsewhere while you remove the safe, then negotiate a security system for her that wasn’t built for weapons.
More important, use this opportunity that’s fallen into your lap to talk with your children about guns. Start by asking if she knew what the gun safe was. (I wouldn’t have!) If none of your children are very young, go deeper: Ask them about gun violence and their sense of safety. Let them take the lead. You and your husband can help them synthesize their thoughts. That’s probably more useful than any top-down declarations by you, and it may be the sort of meaningful give-and-take that your daughter responds to.
Feeling Put Out by a Friend You’ve Put Up
A friend makes her home available for short-term rentals during the summer. She crashes with me when she has paying guests. At first, I enjoyed the company. Now, she drops off her bags in my guest room and goes out to dinner with friends — without including me! My hurt feelings have turned to resentment. Should I speak to her about the discourtesy of excluding me, or should I just ask for a cut of her rental money?
Money rarely solves hurt feelings. Still, it’s often floated as a possible fix. Would you really feel better if your friend handed you a check as she waltzed out to dinner — leaving you at home? No, you’ve introduced money, I think, as a penalty for emotional bruising.
But you’ll do better by being open with your friend. Tell her it hurts to be excluded from dinners when she’s staying with you. Ask if you can join her. Now, there’s always a risk in making ourselves vulnerable: She may say no! But if she agrees, you will have solved the very problem that’s bothering you. Bull’s-eye!
What Can I Bring? No, Seriously.
I was raised never to appear empty-handed at social events. I like to bring food for the hosts’ table, and I always ask what might fit with their menu. Recently, we went to a dinner at an aunt’s house. I asked if I could bring a dish. She said it wasn’t necessary. When I repeated my offer, she asked for crudité and hummus — which she never served. I learned later that she was insulted that I brought food. How can I avoid a situation like this in the future?
Try listening better! I love your generosity, but your aunt probably wasn’t offended by the offer of food. She was more likely put out that you ignored her answer and persisted in asking what you could bring. Some people like preparing dinners on their own — down to the last crumb. Let them!
The next time a host refuses your offer of food, bring a small gift to be used later: some fancy olive oil or a thriving pot of spearmint. You can respect the spirit of your upbringing, I think, without being bossy about it.
How Dare You ‘Reply All’?
I work at a law school. Periodically, colleagues send “all staff” emails, such as: “Jane had an article accepted for publication.” I’m happy to receive them. What I’m not happy about is the barrage of “reply all” messages congratulating her. Why do people do this? If they want to congratulate Jane, write to Jane.
People who click “reply all” tend to be less email-savvy, in my experience. It’s hard to begrudge well-meaning people for that. They may not have considered that they’re littering your inbox with anodyne messages to third parties: “Brava, Jane!” (Or perhaps they’re lazy and don’t want to look up Jane’s email.)
You will probably come off badly, though — as grouchy and pedantic — if you try to correct people in the email chain. Ask an office administrator to suggest a cleaner approach for staff emails: addressed to a single person with the rest of the team blind copied. This prevents you from receiving a flurry of messages for someone else.
For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.