DEAR AMY: Our nephew "Jeremy" has been in jail for a little over a month of a three-month sentence for a road rage incident.
He's basically a good kid with anger-management issues. His mother (my sister-in-law) has told everyone in the extended family about this situation, except for her mother-in-law, "Mary."
We're not sure why, but my sister-in-law says she "has her reasons" for not telling Mary, and that she would appreciate it if we would stay out of it.
This is very uncomfortable for all of us, and we feel terrible being part of this conspiracy of silence. We know that at some time the truth will come out (we all take an annual vacation together and otherwise communicate regularly during the year), and that we will all be held to blame.
If Mary asks us if we know how Jeremy is doing, should we tell her the truth?
We think it's wrong to keep this from her but are trying to be loyal to my sister-on-law. What should we do? — Conflicted
DEAR CONFLICTED: Every day I hear from readers about long-held family secrets — about babies adopted, crimes committed, infidelity, etc. I'm talking about huge secrets known by a circle of people who managed not to disclose this knowledge to other people, sometimes for decades.
As you probably know (if you read this column regularly), I believe in truth and disclosure.
However, there are degrees of crimes and limits to the need for disclosure. If a young person's mother asks you not to disclose to an older family member something deeply personal regarding a crime one of her children committed, then you should respect her wish, unless the crime would have a direct impact on the mother-in-law (i.e. she would be at risk).
You should urge your sister-in-law to disclose this news herself, because then she — not another family member — can provide the context.
If you are asked how "Jeremy" is doing, it is very easy to answer. You say, "I haven't seen him lately, but you should ask his mom. I know she's been in touch with him."
If this news comes out, and "Mary" blames you for keeping silent, you can say, "This was not my news to tell." Which happens to be the truth.
DEAR AMY: I read your column every day and usually agree with you. However, your response to "Parents in the New World" took me by surprise.
Whether the 18-year-old boy (man) knows the girl he is corresponding with is 14 years old is irrelevant.
Her parents should discourage the relationship, pronto! Whether he lives across the country or across the street, the age difference sets up emotional and physical expectations she is most likely unprepared to negotiate.
I'm sure there are plenty of boys within a couple years' difference in age she could have a "real" relationship with, in person and in full view of parental supervision.
Internet relationships encourage dishonesty and potential behaviors that could be downright dangerous. What's to prevent this quiet and shy 14-year-old from getting the Internet courage to get on a bus and meet him in person? — Concerned Reader
DEAR CONCERNED: I agree with you (and the parents who wrote to me) that this relationship is definitely something to be concerned about. That is why I suggested that the parents must be as involved as possible: meeting this person (virtually), verifying his identity and basically shining a light on this relationship to bring it out into the open.
Unfortunately, there is very little that can be done to prevent Internet relationships. Kids who are denied wireless access — texting, etc. — at home can easily go to a school or public library and use wireless and public terminals to communicate secretly. They can borrow a friend's phone or purchase a prepaid phone for this purpose.
The best thing to do is to treat this relationship the way they should treat any friendship with a child this age: "We need to know who your friends are. If this is somebody you care about enough to be in touch with regularly, then we need to meet him."