Dear Amy:

How much privacy should my 16-year-old daughter have when it comes to files on our computer? She has a folder with documents for school, pictures, etc., which is accessible by anyone.

I found a copy of some instant-messaging dialogue she had recently with a girlfriend. This friend described in detail a sexual encounter she had in her living room with a boyfriend while her mother was asleep. He pressured her into doing things that she did not want to do.

To me, this is the same as leaving letters lying around that anyone can read.

Should I confront my daughter with this?

Should I talk with her friend's mother about her daughter's encounter?

I'm not sure what to do with this information, but feel I need to do something.

Confused

Your daughter has no right to privacy when it comes to documents stored on your family computer. The family computer is not like a diary kept under her pillow (which I do believe is private, unless you suspect that there is a very serious reason to snoop).

Of course you must deal with this. No matter what version of this story your daughter tells you ("It's a project for our fiction-writing class! It's no big deal! It's none of your business!"), you still must speak with her friend's parents.

What would you want other parents to do if it was your daughter sending these messages? Surely you would want to know what was going on with her, especially if there is a question about this activity being consensual.

Dear Amy:

My partner and I have dated for a year and eight months. We see each other once or twice a week and have gone on three major trips together, twice with just the two of us, and once with my two boys and his daughter (all teens).

He has never invited me to his apartment.

His daughter, a senior in high school, is with him often -- at his place and at mine. She spends one night a week at his place. She and I are very open, so I know it's not a matter of his hiding anything from me -- other than himself, of course.

I used to hint about going to his apartment, and have only really pressed him about it twice. The first time, more than a year into our relationship, he became very uncomfortable and said that his apartment was too messy. His daughter had told me his place is messy way before I began making hints. The second time, he said that he's embarrassed that he "doesn't have much to show" for his life.

I love him dearly -- he's more attentive and caring than I thought a man could be, and he's both supersensitive and extremely intelligent. He's delighted that his daughter and I get along so well, and he speaks of wanting us to be together "into infinity." But he speaks only vaguely about marriage or living together, and only if I raise the subject.

I love him and would like this to work. Why could he be so uncomfortable about inviting me to his home? I think I'm enabling something here, but what would you call it?

Increasingly Concerned

I'm trying to figure out why you don't take your guy at his word. He has told you that his home is messy and that he's embarrassed about it. His daughter confirms this.

If you need more clarity about your relationship, then you should ask him -- not hint around and hope that he'll pick up on something. If this guy is in your life enough that you are interested in perhaps marrying him, then you're going to have to be brave enough to force this conversation.

If his messy lifestyle is getting in the way of the two of you deepening your relationship, then you should ask him to clean up his act so that you can get closer. You can offer to help with the cleanup (there are also companies that will send in a crew to help sort and clean). Assure him that you won't judge him, no matter what his bachelor pad is like.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

(c)2005 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.