DEAR AMY: My stepson is the oldest child in our household. For Christmas he has asked my husband and me for several items that we will not buy. Some of these things are too expensive, and some have violent and sexual content. We have explained this to him.
He is old enough, but perhaps not mature enough, to understand our reasons. He argues that our other children get "everything they want." I am sure this is the way it seems from his perspective (but they are young, and their requests are simple).
My husband and I are willing to get the things on his wish list that are reasonable. But when we tell him that, he says he hates living with us and wants to go to his mom's, because he can have what he wants there.
This happens to be true. His mom has discussed with us her intention to purchase several of these questionable gifts. We've tried telling him that the gifts don't equal our love for him, but he doesn't want to hear that.
Any advice on how we can come to an understanding with him so our Christmas doesn't end in a tantrum over gifts not received and "I want to go to my mom's?" — Mom Seeking Advice
DEAR MOM: Twelve-year-old boys are at an extremely tender age. Your stepson is not old enough for things he desperately wants, and yet, he is not young enough to love Christmas the way his siblings do.
He also has an irresponsible mother who is trying to bribe him for his affection by handing him tools that will only contribute to his challenges. My heart goes out to him.
I want to inspire you and your husband to continue doing exactly what you are doing. Talk to him, be patient with him and lavish your time and attention onto him. His dad, especially, should set aside one-on-one dad time for him, away from the younger kids during the holiday season.
If you prepare him and he still throws a tantrum on Christmas Day, then you'll simply have to do your best to be kind and calm and not let him spoil the day for his siblings. If going to his mother's house is in the cards on that day, then so be it. If not, then he'll just have to tolerate being with you.
And, if he is in the slightest way musical or into music, get him a secondhand guitar (or a version of the video game "Guitar Hero"). Every 12-year-old boy should have a guitar.
DEAR AMY: My mom always seems to have a problem with any of her kids' significant others when we are with them. The whole time we are dating, she calls them names and criticizes them, but once we break up, she becomes their friend.
Recently, I decided to leave my boyfriend of more than two years. There has been a lot of pain and hurt, and he has caused a couple of problems between my mom and me. Now, she "likes" him.
I am bothered by her actions and told her so, but she doesn't care. What's your take on this? — Disappointed Daughter
DEAR DAUGHTER: Your mother seems overly involved in the personal lives of her children. Now that you recognize her pattern, you should not invite her comments or engage with her when she makes them.
If you are old enough to have a long-term romantic relationship, you should also be mature enough to create and enforce boundaries with your mother. She won't draw acceptable boundaries, so you should.
DEAR AMY: I was intrigued by the letter from "Concerned in Wisconsin," who asked if it was acceptable to put tracking devices on his daughters' phones.
An alternative approach is to text your girls at any given time, have them take a photo of themselves at the given event/place and send it to you immediately.
If they cannot produce the photo, then they are guilty! So simple and foolproof! — Sara in Minnetonka
DEAR SARA: Evidently you don't have teenagers and haven't heard the "My phone ran out of juice" excuse. Your idea is not "foolproof," but it is creative.
(Send questions via e-mail to askamytribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611. Amy Dickinson's memoir, "The Mighty Queens of Freeville: A Mother, a Daughter and the Town that Raised Them" (Hyperion), is available in bookstores.)
By Amy Dickinson
Tribune Media Services