Hi Carolyn:

A co-worker of mine seems to think it's okay to grab my waist or shoulders every time he passes me or comes into my cube. I've told him to stop (even physically pushed him off), but he thinks it's a joke. I'm reluctant to go to my manager, because I don't want to get the guy in trouble or embarrass him. He's not a bad person, just strange. Also, as far as work goes, he's helped me out a lot. I think he just doesn't know how to act around women. What else can I do to make him understand he shouldn't do this? --M.M.

I think this co-worker needs to be shown the true meaning of "hostile work environment."

There is a series of steps here, and the one you start with depends on the situation. Does he think this is all a joke because you're trying too hard to be nice? Countenance counts here. Or is he really just an idiot? Your call--though I think you can skip Step 1.

1. Ask nicely.

2. No pushing hands away, no uncomfortable smiles, no saying "Stop!" Look him in the eye. Say, "Remove your hand, or I will. And do not touch me again."

3. "You seem like a good person. You do your job well. But you touch me again, I take legal action."

4. Take legal action.

I don't care how good or helpful or clueless he is. On the fourth strike, bury him.

Dear Carolyn:

First, let me confess that I exceed "under 30"--my question is in relation to my 15-year-old daughter and her friends. I am extraordinarily lucky to have a spectacular daughter who, on a fairly regular basis, confides in me regarding her social/romantic/school life. Sometimes the things she shares about her friends' behavior make me uncomfortable, but, up to this point, the stories have been mostly hearsay. Last week, however, she was at a party where her friends were drinking while there were no parents in the house. There were also boys, who, strangely enough, were not drinking. My daughter was extremely uncomfortable and had the good sense to call us to pick her up.

Do I tell the other mother that 14- and 15-year-olds were drinking in her house while she was out of town? What about violating my daughter's confidence? Can I do this anonymously? Perhaps I am better off keeping my mouth shut and keeping my own kids close. --Mom

Parenthood isn't for sissies, is it.

The easy answer is the anonymous tip--but you'll know you betrayed your daughter's confidence. Worse, she might figure it out herself, as soon as various fannies start hitting the fan. If that happens, your mother-daughter party is over.

The better answer would be the ultimate sneak attack: treating her to the same kind of honesty and respect she's given you.

Tell her you feel an obligation to alert the other parents, and ask her to suggest ways you can do that without bulldozing the fragile ecosystem that is your spectacular teenager's life. Make it clear you're asking her because you'd do anything to preserve the openness between the two of you.

Anything, that is, short of concealing the truth from these other parents--if you decide your primary obligation is to them. However, this could be where the wheels come off the honesty bus. Once the other parents are involved, you lose control of how the news affects your daughter. Her peers might make her pay, and she might make you pay by clamming up. The former may hasten an inevitable break with these friends, which will be difficult enough. But the latter? Unacceptable.

Meanwhile, I asked my parents about this, and they raised an excellent point: Reporting the truth to other parents will mean death to house parties--through next Saturday. Maybe. They have this crystalline insight because I gave it to them when I was 17. A friend's parents busted us drinking, reported this to other parents, and uprooted our roving beer garden for exactly the length of time we were home serving our various punishments. (No, I am not proud of this. But that's because I'm not 17 anymore.) You can be sure any damage to the relationship between you and your daughter will last far longer.

For me, these two reasons justify giving your daughter equal weight in deciding whether to tell. For you, the answer might be different; I won't presume to raise your kid for you. But she might surprise you and encourage full disclosure. Remember, she herself recognized that teenage guys watching teenage girls get drunk was very old and very, very bad news. She might think it's in her friends' best interests to have parents involved.

So the theory wobbles there at the end. It's still worth a try.

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