Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'm Quitting Advice Columnists

I swear I've got to stop reading advice columnists and get a life. I don't agree with most of the advice anyway, so I don't know why I bother. Old habit, I guess.

A long time ago a writing instructor encouraged members of the class to read the advice columns for story ideas. That was especially significant for anyone wanting to write for the pulp women's magazines True Story and the others of that ilk. The instructor also said it would be helpful even if we weren't interested in writing for those magazines, but were writing fiction. She considered it a good way to find out more about human behavior and maybe even pick up a character or two.

I can't say that I ever found a direct benefit from reading the columns, so I'm really not sure why I continued. Except that "habit" thing. I'm bad with that. Took me four tries and a number of years to finally quit smoking.

Anyway, I was reading the paper last night and glanced at the headline for one of the new, younger, advice columnists: Tween Worried About Anger. An 11-year-old girl had written to express concern because she often got angry for no reason. She described the anger as extreme and wrote that she would go to her room to try to chill out with music. Then she would start feeling incredibly sad - also for no reason - and would end up crying. She was worried about whether what was happening to her might be an indication of a serious problem.

Red flags waving for anyone but me yet?

The columnist replied that what the girl was experiencing was normal, due to hormone changes related to puberty, pointing out that mood swings are a major part of early adolescence.

Okay, that much is true. But most of the mood swings pre-teens experience are triggered by something. Getting angry for no reason is not a normal part of this. Overreacting with anger because Mom told you to do something you didn't want to, or because you get grounded, is a normal part of the emotional turmoil of puberty.

If I had a child who was erupting in anger for no reason, I would be concerned and perhaps make an appointment with a counselor. And to the columnist's credit, she did encourage the girl to talk to her parents or another adult about the mood swings, but she didn't caution the girl that she could be experiencing something that has a more serious underlying cause.

Manic Depression anyone?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In a recent Dear Abby column, a woman wrote to ask what to say when a person inquires what a newly-purchased item costs. The writer explained when she talks about a new item, many people immediately ask, "How much did that cost." She, the writer, finds the question presumptuous and asked what is the best way to politely respond.

Abbey, who is not really Abbey anymore, but her daughter, Jeanne Phillips, fell short on her response to that one. She advised that it is natural for people to be curious about the price of new purchases, and the writer should stop talking about the items she is buying and the problem will be resolved.

Sorry Abby, but that is not the best advice. How about the fact that it is rude for people to ask how much things cost, or how much money one makes, or the net-worth of a stock portfolio. At least that's the way I was raised and many others like me.

(Egads, are there really may more like me? But I digress...)

The other day I was talking to my sister who is caring for our father and now handling his finances. I have no idea how much money my father has or what his monthly income is. Never did my whole life. And my sister said she would not know now, either, except she has to take care of his financial business. But she also said that if feels so awkward to be doing that, almost like an invasion of privacy.

Thinking about that, just reinforces for me the necessity of keeping some things private. So I would advise the lady who wrote to Dear Abby to keep talking about the things she has purchased when appropriate and when someone asks how much they cost, say something general to deflect it -- "More than I thought it would. " If they persist in questioning a good response is, "I'd rather not say."