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I'm a new teacher at a private tutoring firm. We give one-on-one lessons to kids ages 13 to 18. I've twice had the experience of sitting at a table with a male student and seeing the student "adjust" himself. Both times, the student actually put his hand down his pants. The first time, I was so shocked I couldn't hide the expression on my face, and the 17-year-old asked what was wrong. I told him firmly but kindly that it was not appropriate to do that in public and that if he was ever uncomfortable, he should use the bathroom. The second time was with a 14-year-old student. I tried not to say anything, but then he started typing on my computer, so I had to say, "It's not appropriate to put your hands down your pants in public." He protested, "Well, it itches!" I replied that scratching there in public, especially going inside the pants, was still inappropriate. When he left, I broke out the Lysol and germ wipes. Did I handle this in an acceptable manner? What should I do if it happens again? And shouldn't teenage boys already know not to do this?
—Desperate for a Public Service Announcement to Teenage Boys
For insight into "adjustments," I talked to my resident expert on the intricacies of teenage-male behavior, my 14-year-old daughter. She observed: "If boys don't understand something in class, or if during P.E. they need an extra boost of confidence, you can see them putting their hand in their pants. Some of the boys, every time they're going to throw a ball, they put their hand in their pants first! It's so funny. But it's not like they're 26 years old and perverts; they're just boys. None of the teachers say anything. Sometimes if the girls see them and they're being really gross, we'll say, 'Get your hand out of your pants!' " (My daughter also explained that females have a more socially acceptable outlet: "If you're a girl and you're nervous, you flip your hair.") One-on-one tutoring with an adult woman puts a boy in a high-stress situation, and I'm surprised so few of them have grabbed for some comfort. If you have a student who spends the entire session holding on for dear life, you should have a male co-worker pull him aside for a little chat. But some teenage boys, in need of a brief shot of reassurance, are occasionally going to seek out something handy. Eventually, the taunts from their peers should wean them off this habit—after all, you aren't complaining that your male colleagues are drifting pantsward when they need a lift. Ignore the occasional adjustment, and if supporting the disinfectant industry makes you feel more secure, wipe away.
My father is a severe alcoholic in his late 70s. Most of my life, he has been emotionally absent due to the drinking, and I never had much connection with him, even though we lived in the same house. He has recently been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer (probably due to his years of chain-smoking and heavy drinking), and he doesn't have much longer to live. My mom wants me to prepare a eulogy for his funeral since I am their only child. The problem is that I have nothing good to say about my father! He wasn't a bad or mean person, but I remember him mostly as some guy passed out on our couch. I'm not sure what to do—my mom will be heartbroken if I can't come up with something nice to say. What should I do about this?
—A Dutiful Daughter?
It sounds as if your mother is pressuring you in part to justify her decision to spend her life with a passed-out alcoholic. I understand this is a very difficult time for all of you, and you want to make your mother happy, but you also have to do what's right for you, and if that means telling her you simply don't have enough to say about your father to compose a eulogy, then she's going to have to accept that. If you're willing to go ahead, then look at the scene of the memorial service for Livia Soprano, matriarch on The Sopranos, which pretty much defines the genre of what to say when there's nothing good to say. Of course, you probably don't want to borrow any of their lines ("We suffered for years under the yoke of that woman"). So I suggest going another way: confronting your father's alcoholism head-on. It will be no secret to anyone attending that your father was tragically drunk for most of his life. So you can open with something like, "My father died of cancer. But he had another terrible disease that was just as deadly: alcoholism." Talk about how he struggled, and lost, his fight with this illness. Then try to think of something positive. Did he manage to stay gainfully employed? Did he have any interests (besides booze) that engaged him? Can you think of an anecdote or two from your childhood in which he was actually there for you? You don't have to speak for long, and you don't have to present a false portrait. By compassionately telling the truth, you will honor your mother's wishes and even help clarify to yourself what your father meant to you.