Help! I’m Having an Intellectual Affair With My Student.

Advice on manners and morals.
Feb. 19 2014 6:00 AM

Teacher-Student Congress

In a live chat, Prudie advises a married college instructor getting a little too close to her 19-year-old pupil.

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Q. Re: Adoption Ethics: I work for an adoption agency and I am a longtime reader of your column. Your advice here is pretty good and I urge the LW to follow it. The screening for potential adoptive parents is incredibly thorough. The agency where I work requires that potential adoptive parents disclose any and all medical treatments (both mental and physical). If the LW's account varies from what the brother disclosed, then that might create a problem with the agency. When we do background checks and consult with family and friends, we are mostly looking for consistency. If the brother honestly disclosed his anger management courses with the agency, the letter will only strengthen his image in the agency. If the brother did not disclose his anger management courses, then he is probably not following the rules of the agency and your letter is the least of his adoption concerns.

A: Thank you. What worries me is that though the screening should be thorough (and I know it can be grueling for those going through it) there are too many cases we read about in which clearly deficient and ultimately dangerous people are allowed to adopt. Let's hope the brother was honest about his past—I'm going to doubt it. So this means the sister, and one hopes the parents, are filling in absolutely crucial data.

Q. My Son Has Started Using Smokeless Tobacco: We live in an area with a lot of rural, country, "good old boy" mentality. And that culture is extremely accepting of young boys using smokeless tobacco or "dip." My husband has been a user since he was 14. I just discovered that my 16-year-old son and some of his friends are users. It's not like I haven't tried to prevent this. We began having conversations at a very early age about all the terrible things associated with this nasty habit. While my husband is usually my strong ally in disciplinary situations, he is unfortunately (probably because of his own habit) pretty neutral on this one, which my son sees as acceptance and pretty much blows anything I do or say right out of the water. My son is an honors student and great athlete so I have tried to appeal to his smarts and competitive nature by showing him Internet articles, stories, and pictures that relate how unhealthy it is for you. All to no avail. I have taken measures (grounding and changing rules) to make it more difficult for him, but I find that I am so angry with him I can hardly be civil to him about anything. And I can't ground him forever, I'm afraid it's going to ruin our relationship. How do I handle this?

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A: If pictures of horribly disfigured people, their mouths eaten away by cancer because of this disgusting habit, haven't influenced your son, your constant grounding isn't going to. You also are being relentlessly undermined by having a husband who indulges himself. That you married someone who expectorates brown, reeking spittle undermines your own case for just how disgusting you find this. I agree this is a terrible habit, but no matter how much you ground a teenager, he spends more time not under your supervision than under it. You say this is ruining your relationship with him, so I think you need to let this go. Tell him it's been eating you up to think the future danger he's putting himself in, but you haven't been able to persuade him, so you've said your final word on it. (No, I am not giving a pass to all bad or dangerous teenage behavior, just this one.) Preserving a loving, open relationship with your teen is your most important goal, and you have to recognize that that's being jeopardized by your understandable obsession. You will start to feel better when you recognize you've done what you can, and you can't do anymore. But let's hope that unlike the example you and your husband, he finds himself attracted to a lovely girl who tells him he can't get within kissing distance unless he drops this repulsive habit.

Q. Co-Worker Won't Speak Up: I have a mild hearing disability and I work in a large, quiet office with cubicles. My co-worker who sits near me has a soft voice in a tone I don't hear very well. Several times a day she asks me a question or starts talking to me while facing her computer with her back to me. I hear my name, but I can't make out the rest of what she is saying. I then have to stop what I'm doing, move toward her cubicle while saying "excuse me?" Sometimes I say, "I can't hear you" or "WHAT?" It makes me feel rude, and it's disruptive to my work, since she can basically pull me away from it at any moment without warning. I have spoken to her privately once to say that I have a hearing disability and can't hear her when she isn't facing me, but nothing changed. I feel like it would be too rude to completely ignore her when I know she is speaking to me. How can I convince her to adjust her behavior so that I can hear her?

A: Let's give this co-worker the benefit of the doubt and hope she's shy and forgetful, rather than passive-aggressive and hostile. Ask her to meet you in the coffee room or someplace away from the cubicle and have one more go. Explain that your hearing loss means that in the office you need to be facing each other and she needs to speak up for you to understand what she's saying. If that doesn't fix thing, when you hear her say, "Marie ..." and nothing else is clear, use your technology. Reply with an email saying, "Petra, let's take this online so that I know what you're saying."

Q. Having My Baby: This weekend, my live-in boyfriend of five years told me he wanted me to move out. Prudie, the problem is I was planning on telling him that I was pregnant, and that I was buying us a house in a very nice school district. We had discussed having children and I felt confident and secure in our relationship that we were planning a future together. Instead, he wants me to move out immediately so his new girlfriend can move in. I'm not sure I want to be a single parent, but I also want to have our baby. How do I ask him to postpone the move until we can work things out?

A: That's a lot of breaking news, and unfortunately, I have to break the news that you lack the protection that being married to this rat would offer. I don't really understand the terms under which you have been living together if he feels he can abruptly throw you out of your own home, and you feel it's normal to have decided to buy a house without first discussing it with him. But now it's not just a matter of the two of you, but the three of you. First of all, you need a lawyer to figure out your rights to your domicile, and then help you with future custody and support if you have the child. Let's hope with the news of your pregnancy your boyfriend is willing to go to some counseling with you. You certainly need some for yourself so that you can figure out the best thing for you to do under these difficult and trying circumstances.

Emily Yoffe: Thanks, everyone. Talk to you next week!

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Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column.