Trying to fit in with a crowd is the same as engaging in stupid/dangerous behavior. It is usually the motivating factor. She is susceptible to adopting others’ judgment in the place of her own.
I think you have the right general idea in being supportive, but I think specifically you missed a chance to tell her you read the email. If it was up on the screen, you weren’t snooping. You didn’t realize it was private until you actually read it, right?
I also think — pure speculation — the abrupt trading of one group for another, plus black clothes, equals a subtler trade: a rejection of the mainstream (blaming others) in place of the mainstream’s rejection of her (blaming herself). This can inspire her, fizzle out, or take her to a very dangerous place.
There’s no magic solution to teenage doubt and anger, but she needs you: limiting her freedom enough to inhibit recklessness, but not limiting her so much that she rebels; pegging new freedoms to good behavior and grades; supporting her healthy outlets; listening, listening, listening.
You can use the e-mail to get it started: Explain to her that you’re more afraid of lies than of broken rules. More than anything, you want her talking to you.
Adapted from a recent online discussion: Carolyn:
I’m the mom of a 14-year-old who is trying to find herself. She has started dressing all in black, has given up on trying to please the popular set and is hanging with the theater-arts crowd. I’m rolling with it, trying to be supportive of her finding her own voice, etc. At home she seems like the same kid — loving to family, pleasant to be around most of the time. I read an e-mail she left open on her screen that implied she had been experimenting with drugs. I brought up the subject without admitting I’d read the mail, and she denied it. I don’t know if she’s putting on a front to fit in with the current crowd, or really engaging in stupid/dangerous behavior. How to proceed?
My usually sweet beau of a few months is jealous in ways that make no sense to me. He is worried that I have enough straight male friends, but also jealous of my gay friends, one in particular. I’ve never encountered this before, and am at a loss.
For an articulate guy, he’s remarkably silent on the whys and wherefores on this topic. We’ve both talked about this relationship feeling really special from the start, so what do you think might be going on? He’s not asking me to stop seeing my gay friends, but I find myself not mentioning men in general because we get stuck on these jealousy conversations. That’s a flag I can’t ignore, but I don’t know what else to do.
“Usually sweet”? Three months haven’t earned a “usually.”
Tell him you already have found yourself withholding certain things to avoid upsetting him, and this is untenable and unacceptable. Ask him, plainly, to help you understand by articulating his concerns.
If you don’t respect what comes out — be it lame or, worse, another blank — then this “really special” potential was a false impression. Jealousy heralds not only insecurity, but also the kind of control you’re already seeing. It’s a dealbreaker. Read the whole transcript or join the discussion live at noon Fridays on www. washingtonpost.com/discussions. Write to Carolyn Hax, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or tellme@ washpost.com.