DEAR ABBY: My daughter, "Skylar," just started middle school, and she has fallen in with the wrong crowd. She walks around the house with a chip on her shoulder, wearing what looks to us like boys' clothes. She curses and lies, and she and her new friends have vandalized the girls' restroom four times. Her latest trick is to forge my signature on school papers.
I have discussed these problems with the school. They suggested counseling and therapy. What I want is advice on how to discipline Skylar for all the wrongs she has done.
How do I guide my daughter down the right path? -- UNABLE TO DISCIPLINE
DEAR UNABLE: Guiding a child down the "right path" involves more than discipline; it involves open communication and the assurance that he or she is loved. If Skylar were my daughter, the first thing I'd do is have her tested for drugs. If she tested positive, I would start her in a rehab program and possibly place her in another school.
If she tested "clean," I'd do exactly as the school suggested and get counseling and therapy for her. In fact, counseling for your entire family would be a good idea, because it appears that Skylar is not the only one who could use some help. Your parenting skills may need to be upgraded.
DEAR ABBY: My husband and I are concerned that his father may be in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. He's doing childish things like biting my daughter (only with his upper dentures, not his lower ones), hitting her, and getting mad when she "tattles" on him.
He can no longer remember simple things and even forgot to take my daughter to school one day. My mother-in-law keeps putting off talking to him, and says she'll do it "after the holidays," "after his birthday," then "after Father's Day" -- you get the picture.
We are worried that he will become worse and there will never be "a better time" to tell him. I want to talk to my father-in-law myself, but my husband thinks his mother should do it.
I don't want my 4-year-old to think it's OK to bite and hit, or that this is appropriate behavior for her to copy in preschool. -- TROUBLED IN KENTUCKY
DEAR TROUBLED: There are other dementias in addition to Alzheimer's. Your father-in-law should be scheduled immediately for a complete physical and neurological evaluation. Tell the doctor what you have told me. His behavior with your little girl is inappropriate, and if he is so impaired that he forgot to take her to school, he should not be behind the wheel of a car.
Please do not allow this to continue. Your first obligation must be the physical and emotional well-being of your daughter.
DEAR ABBY: I have a huge problem. This boy I like, "Terry," told me over the phone and the Internet that he thought I was "hot" and he loved me, but his best friend's brother, "Rick," told me different. Rick said that Terry hates me, thinks I'm ugly, and I should never call or e-mail him again.
Who should I believe? I'm really confused. -- HEARTSICK IN WAVERLY, OHIO
DEAR HEARTSICK: Tell Terry what Rick said. It's possible that Rick also likes you and wants you for himself, so don't be so quick to believe what he said.
Hold those calls and e-mails for a while. If Terry calls and e-mails you, the chances are he likes you. However, until you are absolutely certain about his feelings, be cautious about the way you respond to his e-mails and about what you say on the phone. It could prevent embarrassment later.
Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600