DEAR ABBY: My family is absolutely out of their minds. I mean it. They're all high-strung with very short tempers. Our dinner table is a battlefield. Everybody is always yelling and screaming at each other, and then the next minute they're sobbing and apologizing like crazy.
My little brother, "Shawn," is in fourth grade and has a real attitude problem. He talks back to Mom and Dad and can be really insulting. When Shawn acts up, my parents totally lose it. They yell at him like there's no tomorrow.
Shawn is smart -- he can cry on cue. When that happens, my parents fall all over themselves apologizing for having upset him. They tell him in calm voices exactly why they got mad and why he was out of line. After that, they ask if he'd like to say "sorry" or "please" more nicely next time. Well, he never wants to, and this gets everyone all fired up again.
After my mom blew a fuse a few days ago, I made the big mistake of telling some of my friends what happened. I've always joked about my family being "crazy," but nobody ever believed me because my family acts nice around guests.
Anyway, all of a sudden my friends are overreacting to stuff I've been saying. One girl said that what my mom does could be considered "verbal abuse." Another friend actually suggested that we see a family guidance counselor.
Abby, even though the fighting at our house gets on my nerves, we all love each other to death. It's not like my parents have ever hit Shawn or me. We just fight. OK? I'm used to it. Are my friends being stupid or what? -- SIXTH-GRADER IN CALIFORNIA
DEAR SIXTH-GRADER: Your friends may be right on target. They're trying to tell you nicely that what's going on in your home is not what goes on in theirs. There seems to be a lot of volatility in your household.
Family counseling could provide your parents with more effective tools to handle their frustration than a non-ending cycle of exploding and trying to make amends, which clearly isn't working with your brother. It could also help you to gain insight about acceptable boundaries of behavior. Please clip this and show it to your mother and father.