While I'm away, readers give the advice.
On ordering a la carte in a prix-fixe world: It seems to me that many of the questions posed to you are asking something impossible. They want to order people in their lives a la carte, picking only the positive things and wanting to extinguish the negative: the perfect boyfriend but . . ., the nice in-laws except . . ., the cool friend group except for this one thing . . ..
Accepting imperfections seems such a necessary quality to get through a day, let alone a life. I don't get why people don't just realize that the benefits exceed the cost and accept the cost, or realize the cost exceeds the benefit and cut bait. There's no fixing stuff just so; it's a path to unhappiness.
Where do these people live that they expect things to fit in neat little perfect packages? Never mind, they are in front of me at the drive-thru using 47 words to order a cup of coffee when I just want a cruller and a large black coffee.
On talking to a grown child who has chosen to walk on the wild side: I told my daughter something when she went to college that she still remembers at 35. I told her I knew she was going to have fun, but my hope for her was that she wouldn't make any choices she would have to live with for the rest of her life - more important, though, a choice I would have to live with for the rest of my life. I said I could not imagine my life without her and was not sure I could go on if she were to die.
I also reminded her that she could call anytime - no judgment - if she was ever in a situation where she felt unsafe, and we would figure it out. She was shocked by how frank I was, but it stayed with her.
On being assigned "the smart/pretty/athletic/disappointing one" label: Parents probably mean to compliment their kids by assigning them a Leading Attribute label, but it's so limiting.
As all parents know, nothing defeats the Parental World Power quite like sibling collusion, so collude. Look to your sibs. If you have any relationship with your brothers (the "jock," "homecoming king," and "troublemaker"), start breaking out of your assigned roles together. They are probably just as sick of theirs as you are of being "the smart one," and if you can tease yourselves a little about those times you weren't brilliant, athletic, beautiful, playful, then you can also build each other up and help each other claim all your facets. Not perfectly anything - nor lacking other gifts and challenges - but complex, developing people. It's magic.
On trust vs. privacy for teens online: My oldest turns 21 this month. In middle school, he asked why an adult had to be in the room when he was online. I asked, "Would I drop you off in Times Square by yourself?" His answer was no. I explained that the Internet was a wonderful place, but that it reflected the whole world, so leaving him alone there would amount to the same thing. We didn't read every conversation, but we had his passwords, so he knew we could.