Q. I need some advice to guide our children in this electronic world. My husband and I have four children, ages 9 through 15.
Recently, our 12-year-old son was riding home on the school bus and a classmate showed him some salacious pictures that upset him.
He wasn’t sure how to get out of the situation, or what to say. He was on the window side of the seat so when he asked the other student to move aside so he could get out, the student would not move. Fortunately, the bus ride is only two minutes, but when he got off the bus he was very upset.
Our son is very modest, and we care very deeply about our children’s exposure to these types of things.
We talked it through and I brought it to the principal’s attention. He basically said that if there are no witnesses, then there is nothing he could do.
There is also a school policy of no phones, which extends to the bus. We reminded the principal of this. In the state we live in, we could possibly bring this issue to the police.
Outside of all that, what would your guidance be when children are shown things they don’t want to see — whether it is salacious, gory or otherwise? What are the words to say that empower them to rebuff these types of things, and to assert themselves more effectively?
A. Your son was bullied and sexually harassed. His reaction to it was completely appropriate: when he was made uncomfortable, he tried to leave the area, but was physically prevented from doing so. He told an adult. All good.
The school principal’s reaction to this incident was sorely lacking and quite unprofessional. The aggressive boy should be disciplined and counseled. The school bus is an extension of the school; students deserve to ride in (relative) peace.
You should reassure your son about his own reaction. He has done nothing wrong, and he is justified in feeling upset about this.
Then you and your husband need to talk to your kids about porn, violence, and media literacy. The omnipresence of this material in modern life means that children will be exposed to it at an early age. Stumbling across it (or deliberately finding it) is very different from having a bully shove it in your face.
Assure your son that he can always come to you with any concerns, and reassure him that he is basically a rock star who is already more mature than his peers.
He should try out and rehearse various responses. Boys who are bullied sometimes have success with a bored-seeming: “Dude, get a life” reaction. This is both worldly and self-protective.
Q. My father passed away three years ago at the age of 80. At the last minute, his significant other wasn’t up to making the decisions concerning his final arrangements.
She took care of dad for a long time when he was ill, and she couldn’t do more.
My problem is that I am feeling guilty about having him cremated. I had little time to prepare, no money for a funeral (the town paid for cremation) and was an emotional wreck.
I’m the most responsible out of four adult children, so I put it all on myself.
It has been haunting me. I was never able to ask dad what his wishes were. He was very afraid of dying. We have no religion, so I don’t have that guideline.
My siblings seem OK with my decision, but I am feeling upset over it now. I wish I had known what his wishes were.
A. You took a lot on, and you weren’t prepared. Your reaction now is completely understandable. For what it’s worth, I know you did the right thing.
You will feel better if you close the circle by memorializing your father. Plan a ceremony and bury or scatter his ashes in a meaningful place. Play his favorite music, prepare readings and then gather with your siblings and his partner for a meal. My sincerest condolences.
Q. Thank you, thank you, for your strong and beautiful response to “Confused,” the engaged man whose mother had pancreatic cancer. He wanted to rush the wedding, but his fiancee wanted to wait and “enjoy the process.” I was so relieved that you set him straight.
A. It is unusual for me to suggest that a person should not marry their intended; I made an exception in this case.Amy Dickinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.