My wife and I live next door to a couple who have a twenty-year-old son who does odd jobs for us. Through the years I’ve thought the son was a little strange. He’s respectful, but very quiet, averts his eyes when spoken to, rarely smiles or seems happy. What he does for us is mow the lawn, wash our two cars, walk the dog, and sometimes wash windows or move around furniture when we have parties. His parents never talk about him. We don’t have children of our own and are in our sixties, perhaps ten years older than our neighbors. The son, from what we can tell, doesn’t seem to have friends or any kind of social life, and spends most of his time in his room, on the computer or playing video games. He does not have a key to our house but keeps an eye on the property when we’re out of town. Recently we’ve noticed changes in him. He’s more surly than he used to be; he’s begun chain smoking; his style of dress has changed to mostly black with a big chain hanging out of one of his pockets; he pretty much shaved his head after years of wearing his hair long. My wife feels uncomfortable around him. A few weeks ago, some cash went missing from a bureau drawer and we suspect it was him. A few weeks before that, a little clock that was a wedding present from my wife’s sister disappeared. We’ve also had difficulty finding a camera that was kept in a bedroom closet. The problem is this: we’d like to fire the boy but don’t know how because of our friendship with his parents, whom we like very much. We go out to dinner with them every so often and they are always telling us what a godsend it is to have us as neighbors and how grateful and happy they are that we’ve hired their son. What to do? Our houses are in close proximity. We love where we live, but are at our wits end and have even considered moving. I hope you can help.
Scared of the Neighbor’s Son
Dear Scared of the Neighbor’s Son,
There’s nothing wrong with telling the truth, as long as you’re diplomatic. Make a dinner date with your neighbors. Tell them you’re concerned about their son because you’ve noticed a downward trend in his behavior. As things stand, you don’t feel comfortable with him doing odd jobs or looking after the house. I wouldn’t mention your suspicions about the boy stealing as you can’t prove it and you don’t want things to get even more tense. Here’s another thing: you don’t know how the boy will react when you fire him and he sees someone else working for you. He sounds like the kind of kid who’s troubled and could go a little postal. For public safety reasons, you should discuss that with his parents, too. Does he have guns? Ask the parents. If you’re really worried, notify the authorities. If it were me, I’d move.
REACTIONS TO SCARED OF MY DAUGHTER
You must be some stupid bitch to allow your daughter to walk all over you and get away with shit like that. If that were my child, all privileges would be gone and she’d be grounded for life. I wouldn’t be surprised if child protective services went after you. If you’re that lax a parent, I wonder what else you’re doing that could totally screw up your daughter. I hope you come to your senses quickly.
Adele B, Kingston, NY
I do understand that teenagers, perhaps especially girls, can be difficult. That doesn’t excuse the hands-off behavior you’ve chosen in disciplining (or I should say not disciplining) your daughter. If things go wrong with her on her nightly adventures it will be your fault, not hers. What is the matter with you? You had a baby on your own via a sperm donor and now, from the sound of it, you’ve left her to bring herself up without much guidance from you. I hope you will take stock and make changes before it’s too late. Seriously.
Jane M., San Jose, Ca
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Disclaimer: CD Knowles is not a doctor or psychotherapist. Any opinions expressed on Knowles Knows are just that — opinions.