DEAR AMY: Some time ago, I found out that my 20-year-old granddaughter “Sally’s” ex-boyfriend, “Jason,” is calling and texting Sally’s 13-year-old sister late at night. When I expressed my concern to these girls’ mother (my daughter) that a 20-something male was calling and texting a 12-year-old (she has since turned 13), her mother brushed it off, saying that he had always been close to Sally’s younger sisters, and anyway — he lives five hours away. This has been going on for months now, and I find it inappropriate, no matter how far away he lives. Jason and Sally dated for about two years, but I don’t suppose Jason saw the younger sisters more than half a dozen times in that time. To be fair, anytime I was aware of him, he seemed to be a thoroughly nice young man, but I still feel that there is something off — or wrong — about this. What is your take?
DEAR GRANDMA: Many boyfriends and girlfriends become very close to their partner’s siblings, and see them in a very benign “little sister” sort of way. But, other than an occasional, “Hey, kiddo, I heard you scored a goal in soccer — good for you!” text, I agree with you that a 20-something should not be in frequent contact with an unrelated adolescent through private channels.
Of course, it is possible that the girl is initiating these communications. A parent should definitely take a closer look at this.
If your daughter (the girl’s mother) thinks that a distance of five hours is any serious impediment to an improper relationship, then she hasn’t seen enough episodes of “Dateline NBC.”
The degree to which a predator can successfully reach a target, without anyone knowing about it, is alarming.
The girl’s mother should check the girl’s phone and look at texts, investigate any other channels of communication between the two (apps such as Snapchat, Kik, WhatsApp, FB private messaging, or the good old U.S. mail) and — if she doesn’t like what she sees — she should intervene.
(There are also products available that make it possible for parents to monitor a child’s online activity without them knowing about it.)
She should talk openly with the child and check her reaction regarding interrupting or ceasing contact. The degree to which the girl freaks out is a rough measurement of the intensity of the relationship. The mother should do her best to be understanding and openhearted toward her daughter. Adolescents are emotionally and physically vulnerable, and their parents need to protect them.
DEAR AMY: I have a 14-year-old niece, and I believe she is a spoiled brat. Every time I complain about her, my older sister runs to her defense! In my sister’s eyes, my niece can do no wrong. She takes her daughter on extravagant trips and my sister has the audacity to say that she is young and needs lots of experiences. I thought that elders were supposed to come first! My niece has her whole life ahead of her! I am 54 and want to do something with my life, but for now I am stuck taking care of my ailing 89-year-old father. I am a full-time caregiver. My sister treats me like dirt and I am fed up. How can I put my sister in her place, and get my niece to step up?
Taken Advantage Of
DEAR TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF: It seems that your primary beef is with your sister. You should not be complaining about your niece to her mother — when you do so, you are forcing the parent to be defensive, and unifying the two of them in opposition to you. Her choices as a parent are really not your business.
Caregiving is an exhausting and depleting experience. I hope you will turn your anger into action, and look for ways for you to get the respite you deserve. Check with your local office on aging for respite services, and encourage (don’t demand) your niece to spend time with her grandfather.
DEAR AMY: “Big Sister Brenda” was struggling to explain to her much younger half-sister why she called her stepfather “Jack” while the sister called him “Dad.” Thank you for advising that this family should simply be open and transparent about the mother’s previous divorce. I feel sorry for children who are needlessly kept in the dark about this sort of thing.
DEAR HAPPY: The longer parents wait to explain family relationships, the more weighty these things seem.