Our Teen Houseguest Seems to Be Stealing Stuff

Our Teen Houseguest Seems to Be Stealing Stuff

March 21, 2019

A teenage relative spends occasional weekends with us in the city, mostly to escape her sheltered life at home. She loves going to museums, shopping and even having dinner with us at our favorite diner. And we like having her. But the last two times she stayed over, we noticed objects of sentimental value were missing. The first time, we assumed we misplaced it. But after the second incident, we believe she took them. No one else had access to them. Should we say something?


Just don’t call her behavior “a silent cry for help,” O.K.? Because that’s a lame bromide that raises more issues than it resolves: Who’s supposed to answer her cries, for instance? And what if she rejects the help? As a former sticky-fingered teen, though, I’m glad you wrote. I think you may be able to help her.

Don’t lob the issue straight to her parents. They may take offense at your allegation or simply ask the girl directly. And if she’s anything like I was, she will deny everything, especially to her parents. Save that option for later.

Wait until the girl’s next visit. Then say, “There are many reasons that kids your age steal things: They feel stressed or powerless or bad about themselves, and want to be caught and punished. We don’t know if any of these apply to you. We think you’re great. But some things went missing after you visited, and no one else could have taken them. Can we talk about it?”

She may refuse. If so, send her home and tell her parents why. At least she will learn there are serious consequences for bad behavior. But if she’s willing to talk, you seem like great candidates: loving, but removed from her daily life (which may make it easier for her). And what a kindness to help her explore why she’d risk your weekends together for a few knickknacks!

To Respond, or Not to Respond?

Thirty years ago, I befriended a co-worker. We drifted, and recently reconnected. Now I remember why I didn’t keep in touch: She’s gloomy and self-involved. She told me she’s lonely and keeps asking to get together in emails and phone messages. When I didn’t reply, she told a mutual friend my phone must be disconnected. I think not responding is kinder than saying I don’t want to be friends. You?


Funny, I think ignoring her is just as mean as telling her the hard truth — not that I recommend either approach. Call or write an email, instead: “Thanks for the invitations, but this is a bad time for me. I’ll reach out when it’s better.” It’s called tact, people!

That’s Not 10 Percent

I am a housekeeper for an artist. I’ve had the job for three years. One day, I mentioned his work to his neighbor. When the neighbor saw my boss, he told him what I said and asked to visit his studio. My boss was excited. He told me if the neighbor bought a painting, he would give me a 10 percent commission. Recently, my boss gave me some money. He said it was my commission. But I know how much he was asking for the painting. He gave me way too little! It was only a 4 percent commission. Can I tell my boss that what he did wasn’t fair?


I am torn (as employees often are when we want to gripe to bosses). You were kind to talk up his paintings, and he was generous to offer you a commission. If he gave you less than 10 percent of what he collected, he acted badly. As a lawyer who represents artists, though, I can tell you that buyers often pay much less than the asking price for art. Are you willing to challenge your boss about the actual amount paid?

And even if he flat-out cheated you, are you sure it’s worth pressing for the full commission (before you line up a replacement gig)? What if he fires you? Could you manage the loss of income? How quickly would you find another job? Now, these questions don’t go to fairness. But as employees, most of us know that what’s fair is rarely the only consideration. Still, if you can handle the fallout, go for it!


My daughter is getting married. A dear friend of hers, who is also engaged, cannot attend the wedding. Why? Because the memorial service for her fiancé’s grandmother was randomly assigned the same date as my daughter’s wedding. I believe that someone should empower this young woman to attend the wedding, instead. May I?


Please remove your parent-of-the-bride goggles! What you call empowerment sounds like bullying to me. Sure, you want your daughter’s friend to come to the wedding, but you haven’t suggested that anyone is pressing her to skip it. Also, it seems reasonable that she would choose to support her fiancé on a day that may be really rough for him — even if that means missing out on an old pal’s wedding. Sometimes unavoidable conflicts crop up. Deal with it!

For help with your awkward situation, send a question to [email protected], to Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on Twitter.

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