Adolescent looking for a ‘normal’ life

My wife and I are very strict with our 12-year-old son, “Jonathan.” He has normal adolescent issues, but he really is a great kid — well-mannered, hardworking, gets good grades, etc.

Dear Annie: My wife and I are very strict with our 12-year-old son, “Jonathan.”

He has normal adolescent issues, but he really is a great kid — well-mannered, hardworking, gets good grades, etc. We give him lots of freedom to make decisions about free-time activities and try to teach him about life. We take him on vacations and spend a lot of time with him.

Jonathan has recently begun doing small things that show he really isn’t thinking, such as walking past an overflowing garbage can, etc. We told him to go to his room and write a letter about how he was going to be more respectful and help out the family. He came back with a letter about how he wished he could live a “normal” life like his other friends. We sat down and had a tearful conversation with him, but didn’t get any clear answers about why he doesn’t feel normal.

Do we have anything to be concerned about? — Hurting Parent

Dear Hurting: Probably not, but you need to watch how you handle the situation because it is likely to get more complicated as he gets older. Like many teens and preteens, Jonathan wants to spread his wings. He also sees that his friends apparently have fewer rules and he may be envious. But too little supervision can make children insecure and they often respond by testing the boundaries more forcefully in order to get their parents to react.

If Jonathan is saying his family life isn’t “normal,” that’s OK. If he is saying he isn’t normal, however, it might indicate a problem, so watch for signs of depression. You seem to have excellent communication with your son, which will help, but try to be flexible enough to adjust your methods as Jonathan goes through his teen years.

Dear Annie: I had a mastectomy a few years ago. What is a one-breasted wife to do about her husband’s frequent and insensitive remarks regarding women’s cleavage, or his hungry looks at overexposed women? There are a lot of them around, especially in the summer. Please help. — Hurting Helplessly in Silence

Dear Hurting: Your husband sounds remarkably immature. Don’t be a martyr. Tell him how much this hurts you, and that he needs to control his leering in your presence because it undermines your respect for him and wears away at the fabric of your marriage. Let’s hope he has the brains to grasp how damaging his behavior is and values his marriage enough to work on it.

Dear Annie: When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I shoplifted several times. I came from a wonderful, decent, church-going family and don’t know why I did it. I finally got caught, and it was the most humiliating day of my life.

I am 56 years old now, and there are still moments when the experience comes back to me as though it happened yesterday. The most awful feeling washes over me, and I wish it could be erased from my memory.

If any of your readers are shoplifters, I beg you to stop now. It’s so very wrong. It hurts the retail stores and is an unnecessary way to bring trouble into your mind that will last a lifetime. Don’t wait until you get caught to learn this lesson because you can’t imagine how degrading it is. That little lark that seemed so clever and exciting at the time turns into guilt that will haunt you for the rest of your life.

How you would feel if someday your own child was caught shoplifting? How would you deal with that knowing your own history? Don’t do it. It’s not worth the price. — Regrets

Dear Regrets: Thank you for letting our readers have a peek at what you have gone through. We hope your efforts to help will do just that.

Happy Passover to all our Jewish readers.

Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to anniesmailbox@comcast.net, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611. To find out more about Annie’s Mail.