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No Present Christmas and a Bogus Girlfriend

Dr. Catherine Pearlman on

Dear Family Coach: My 14-year-old son has told me to get him nothing for Christmas. He says he doesn't need or want anything. Meanwhile, his brothers have long lists. Money isn't an issue, yet I'm struggling with not getting him something. I don't want him to miss getting presents, but it seems weird to force presents on a kid who doesn't care for them. What should I do? -- Spent

Dear Spent: There are several reasons your son might say he doesn't want anything this year. I'd consider the reasons carefully so you know how to proceed.

One reason kids can become apathetic about gifts is they are depressed. One key symptom of depression is loss of interest in beloved objects, activities and people. Make sure your son isn't also experiencing changes in his sleeping habits, mood, ability or interest in school, or showing other behavioral deviations from his norm. If he does seem depressed, forget the presents and get him some help for Christmas with a licensed counselor.

Some kids are just so overwhelmed by the pressure to pick the perfect choice that they end up picking nothing. If your son suffers from indecision, just make some good choices for him. He'll likely be happy with any of it.

Since financial issues aren't a concern, another reason your son might display no desire for presents is he has everything. Does he already have a phone, video games, clothing, hair products, apps, spending money, music subscriptions or the other stuff kids typically crave at his age? If so, he's sending you a message -- stop buying. He's got enough. If you absolutely can't bear to buy nothing, then sponsor a child your son's age who is in need, or make a donation in your son's name to a meaningful charity.

Dear Family Coach: My son is 17 years old and claims he has a girlfriend. I know he is lying. I want to confront him because I don't think it's healthy to have a pretend girlfriend. But I don't want to embarrass him. How can I help him be more honest without hurting his feelings? -- Mom

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Dear Mom: You can't. No matter how you approach this situation, it will end badly.

Maybe you think you are 100 percent sure he's lying but in fact he isn't. He is almost an adult, and trust me, you don't know everything about his life. It's plausible that there's a girlfriend online or in another city or even close to home. He could hide it from you for a variety of reasons. But confronting him and saying that he's lying will embarrass and infuriate him. I doubt he will be interested in sharing his news in the future.

The alternative is your son is making it all up. So what if he is? He obviously has a need for you to think he has a girlfriend. Maybe he's gay and doesn't feel you would understand. Maybe he is feeling pressure from you or friends to couple up. Or maybe he's working through low self-esteem issues through an imaginary friend. More damage will be done if you confront him. Just be supportive and let him know his friend is always welcome at the house.

If your son's girlfriend really doesn't exist, don't fret. He will eventually break it off. Imaginary friends inevitably lose their usefulness.

Dr. Catherine Pearlman is the author of "Ignore It! How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction." To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Copyright 2017 Creators Syndicate Inc.


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