I told my husband that my sister has HIV. But she doesn't.

Advice on manners and morals.
Aug. 13 2009 6:37 AM

Twisted Sister

I told a devastating lie about my sibling years ago. How do I come clean?

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—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Recently, my parents and I have become aware that my cousin has some very extreme religious and political views. We found this out through his posts on Facebook, MySpace, and text messages. He has a mental disability and though he is an adult, he does not fully have the mind of one. We are very concerned about these extreme views of his, as we can all see him possibly becoming the next American religious fanatic turned violent. He has also in the past experimented with drugs. Right now, our biggest dilemma is whether we should show his father the postings and messages. Because my cousin is an adult and lives out of town, I am not sure what his father could do. I'm also concerned that telling will possibly alienate him or his son. We are a close family, but those of us who have read the material he has put on the Internet are very concerned.

—Fanatic in the Family

Dear Fanatic,
There have been so many cases in which investigations of horrifying shootings revealed warnings posted by the shooter, so it's sensible that you are concerned. I talked to Michael Karson, a forensic psychologist at the University of Denver, about this, and he said you should take action, but you should keep in mind that for every person who posts scary, violent words and actually harms people, there are many thousands of others with bizarre rantings who never hurt anyone. That said, he suggested your cousin be approached, not with shackles and Thorazine but with a calm desire to talk. Unless there's history you haven't explained, your uncle should not be alienated by your expressing concern about your cousin. He should want to know whether his son is going off track—and, presumably, even if they don't live in the same town, he surely wants to keep tabs on his mentally disabled child and make sure he's not alone in the world. So with the knowledge of what his son is posting, he (or possibly another family member) should say to your cousin something like, "I've read some of your writing about the future of the country. You have an interesting take, but I see things somewhat differently." Whoever does this is trying to offer a reality check and be a counterweight to help your cousin develop more socially acceptable values. It shouldn't be a one-time conversation, but a continuing effort to engage him and shape his thinking. However, there are certain warning flags that require action. If your cousin is making direct, credible threats, he needs to be reported to the authorities. And if he is delusional, he should be persuaded—or required—to get mental health care.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie,
I'm a 14-year-old who is about to go into high school. My question is concerning a stuffed animal I've had ever since I was 4. I sleep with this little dog every night, and when I go anywhere else, I am sure to bring him. He's very familiar and comforting, and while I'm sure I could sleep just fine without him, it's very nice to be able to cuddle something soft and nonjudging, especially after a trying day. So, my question is: Am I too old to still be sleeping with a stuffed animal? Will it hurt me later on if I don't get rid of him?

—Don't Want To Let the Dog Go

Dear Don't,
I have every confidence that your long relationship with your stuffed dog is actually helping prepare you for the time when you share your bed with a live partner—one who I hope will listen sympathetically at the end of the day as your bodies are entwined. I have such a bedmate—my cat, Biscuit. My husband is cuddly, too, but I agree that there's something about a small, fluffy creature that just takes the edge off. There's no reason not to continue to let your sleeping dog lie next to you; after all, he's absorbed a decade of kisses and tears. But because you're wondering about it, the next time you go for an overnight, why not take him along, but leave him in your bag—just to see how it feels. And even though you will learn to get through the night without him, that doesn't mean he shouldn't accompany you to college or be lovingly cared for until, maybe someday, he will be ready for duty for your own children.

—Prudie