DEAR HARRIETTE: My 19-year-old niece just confided in me that she had sex with a young man kind of randomly. The affair is over, and I'm so glad she felt she could talk to me about it. We talked candidly about how exciting the experience probably was and also how dangerous -- for health, emotional and developmental reasons. She gets it. She also said she had already told her mother.
I'm wondering if I should bring it up to her mother, too. Or is it better to not stir the pot but remain available to my niece to talk about her life? We have always had a good relationship. She is headed off to college, and I want her to know that I am always there for her. -- To Stir or Not to Stir, Cincinnati
DEAR TO STIR OR NOT TO STIR: I have learned from firsthand experience that children and young people often feel more comfortable talking about intimacies with adults who are not their parents. That's why godparents and close family friends are important. That African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," is real. Consider yourself part of your niece's village.
I don't think you need to call your niece's mother to report what you learned. Rather, you can let her know that you are developing a great rapport with her daughter and that you intend to maintain that closeness while your niece is at school. If ever you believe your niece is in danger, however, you absolutely should tell her mother.
As you cultivate your relationship with your niece, know that if you give a little, you may get a lot. Be prepared to tell stories about your life -- when they are appropriate to the moment -- so that your niece can see how choices affect the future. Make sure you have processed your stories and understand their meaning before you share.
DEAR HARRIETTE: I run a small company that has a relatively casual dress code. Normally we are quite lenient with the way the staff dresses, but as the summer has gotten hotter, the attire has become too bare. Now it's really out of control. Several female employees have worn hot pants, super-low-cut tops and sheer clothes. The young men have begun to sag their pants way below the professional line.
I don't want to come off as an uptight boss, but their attire is distracting. How can I address this, given that we have no written dress code and I haven't said anything before? -- Wardrobe Malfunction, Seattle
DEAR WARDROBE MALFUNCTION: It's never too late to establish ground rules for your company. Since this is new, however, I recommend that you acknowledge as much.
Call a staff meeting. Start by thanking your team members for their hard work. Point out specific positives about their efforts. Then tell them that you do have one concern: how relaxed work attire has become.
Tell them you are instituting a new dress code and outline the parameters, including no sagging, no hot pants, etc. Specify what casual professional attire means to you and ask them to comply.