Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Show concern for friend — but encourage him to seek help, too
Q: One of my college-age brother's friends, "Joe," has friended me on Facebook. Joe has had a rough time — many stepfathers, lots of moving around and a mother with mental-health problems who died a couple of years ago. Joe is now a young father and has split from his son's mother. I don't think he has much of a support system.
Neither my brother nor I live in the same city as Joe anymore. Joe has started posting bitter, depressed and troubling messages. I'm worried he could hurt himself or others (though he has not said anything specific about doing so), but I don't know that it's my place to say anything. Should I reach out to him? Encourage my brother or parents to reach out to him?
Meddle or MYOB?
A: Encourage your brother or parents to say something, yes, but also consider commenting on his posts: "Hey, Joe — do you have someone there you can talk to?"
It's really important that you don't get sucked into being his amateur therapist, drama reward system or just shoulder to cry on; this will only give him a place to hide from real help. This trap is often very hard to avoid.
If he responds affirmatively, urge him to get in touch with that person. Seems obvious, but even a nudge can help.
If he responds negatively, then do a little research on crisis resources in his area, and send him a few numbers. Then step back and let him do what he needs to do. (And give these numbers and suggestions — especially the part about not getting sucked in — to anyone else you enlist to help.)
If you see any alarms about the child, call Childhelp, 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
A mantra to keep in mind: Show you care and show the way. The rest has to be up to him.
Best thing you can read when raising a son? The son himself
Q: Just found out that we're having a boy. You've got three! Any books you've thought were great so that I can be prepared for this adventure?
A: Congratulations! The best thing you can do is raise the boy you have vs. the archetype of a boy. So — whether he's a fort-building, knee-scraping adventurer; or a thoughtful, bookish guy; or a fine-motor, creative guy; or a natural nurturing type; or a jock of all trades; or, most likely, some finely shaded combination of these — the best thing you can read for raising him is your son himself. Watch and listen and attend to his needs.
For questions that you aren't comfortable answering on your own, books have their place — but they, too, are more effective when they cover the issue at hand vs. general topics. To help you find good titles as you need them, it helps to cultivate relationships with fellow parents, savvy teachers and an accessible pediatrician.
The one must-read is NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. It's not only fascinating, but it also blows huge holes in conventional parenting wisdom. It then fills those holes with good ideas, plus skepticism about what "everybody" says. That's a solid baseline for reading what your boy needs instead of deferring to a script.