Q.My son's friend -- one that he's had since early elementary school -- doesn't come from a child-friendly home, but he has always been welcome at our house.
That is not to say that his parents don't take care of him; they do. But we are the ones who drive him to and from games and other events and make sure he gets home safely.
Now that he is in middle school, however, he has begun inviting other children to our house as if it were his own. This wouldn't be a problem normally, but he no longer respects our boundaries and he even resents them. He is also sharing this resentment with his visitors and then my son ends up in the middle. So far this hasn't bothered our super-secure boy, but it sure bothers me and I am starting to resent this child and his family.
A.If parents don't make their home a haven for their child and his friends, he will either crawl into his own shell or find a home somewhere else. In either case, he'll know that he has been rejected passively, if not actively.
This is as much a pity for the parents as it is for the child. Good times are the glue that binds families tighter than anything else and gives the best memories, too. A child certainly won't remember the fun he had playing video games alone, day after day, because he was afraid that his friends might get a smudge on the walls or play music louder than a whisper.
Fortunately this boy has been able to adopt you, which should make some of his pain go away, but it also makes you play parent, whether you want to or not.
If you don't set boundaries, and enforce the boundaries you set, he is going to push and push to find out where he stands, and his presence will become unbearable.
The next time he comes over (tomorrow, no doubt), call him aside, ask him to send his friends home and send your own son outside to play. Once the house is cleared, you should have a much-needed private talk with your perennial visitor.
Ask him why he thinks it's okay to invite his friends over whenever he wants and to let them break your rules. And for that matter, why he thinks it's okay for him to break the rules that he has followed for years.
These questions will help him put the responsibility for his behavior on his own shoulders and decide whether he is boy enough to do what you would require of anyone who visits your house every afternoon and every weekend.
Tell him that he is like a second son to you, but if he is going to be treated like a son, he'll have to assume the duties of a son. He can't have it both ways.
And then lay out rules that you may never have articulated before.
Tell him that he must help you around the house as much as your son does (and your son should help you quite a bit by now). Chores are an essential part of a child's development, because they answer the need for competence and a sense of self-worth.
He'll also have to ask your permission before he invites someone over to play, just as your son does, and he must obey your rules and encourage his friends to obey them, too. He might have to be nagged a bit to do his chores and grumble a bit about your rules -- what child doesn't? -- but you should expect him to do his part with a fair amount of grace. And if he can't do that, and if he and his friends can't be polite, he will have to play somewhere else and get to games and other events on his own.
And then tell him that you hope he decides that he likes your son, and your family, enough to comply, but if he doesn't, you'll hope he'll come back to visit when he can accept the burdens of friendship, as well as its rewards.
He'll probably shape up, reluctantly, but he'll shape up much quicker if you follow the advice in a terrific how-to, why-to paperback, "Don't Give Me That Attitude!" by Michele Borba (Jossey-Bass; $14.95). If parents follow her advice, she says, they can get rid of all kinds of rude, demanding behavior in their children in just 21 days. Or less.
Questions? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.