Dear Margo: More than a 13-Year-Old Can Handle

My young friend is in over her head; what should I do? Margo Howard’s advice

More than a 13-Year-Old Can Handle

Dear Margo: I’m very worried about my friend. I’m 12, and she will be turning 13. She has casual sex, and unfortunately, she binge drinks and does drugs a lot. She makes very bad choices regarding boys, and I worry for her health and safety. I doubt she uses protection, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she got pregnant or an STD sooner or later. I’ve tried to suggest nicely that she be more careful, but she is set in her ways and thinks she is much more mature than she is. It doesn’t help that her closest friends are also like that.

I’m sure others have told her these things, too, but she just doesn’t listen. I feel like if she keeps this up, she’ll end up having many problems with substances and a low opinion of men. She’s had some close calls, but she hasn’t snapped out of it. I worry that the only way she’ll see reason is if she hits rock bottom, but I obviously don’t want her to be beyond repair when she realizes it. — Worried in Michigan

Dear Wor: It is hard for me to believe that these things go on with 12- and 13-year-old kids, but I know that they do. Such a young girl clearly has little parental supervision and many problems. If I were you, I would go to the school nurse or counselor and tell this person of your worries. That adult may open the subject with your friend. The response may not be positive. Because you have “suggested” she modify her behavior and that has not helped, I fear it will take a pregnancy or an STD to wake her up, but you will have tried your best to be a friend. Sometimes we can only get so far in trying to save a friend from herself. — Margo, historically

A Sticky Wicket

Dear Margo: There are two men in my life for whom I have very strong feelings. One, “Tom,” I have known for years. We dated previously, and I was deeply in love with him. He broke my heart, though, and only in the past few months have we become close friends again. But recently, he’s been trying to resurrect our romance. I am wary because of the past.

The other man, “Carl,” is very sweet and has become one of my best friends. We hang out every day and are close. I have developed very strong feelings for him and have heard, from mutual friends, that he feels the same. The only problem is that he hasn’t told me directly how he feels. To make things more complicated, these two men are best friends.

I want to do what is right, but I don’t want to sacrifice my friendship with either of them. I love Tom and always will. He was my first love, but I don’t know whether it’s worth trying again. Meanwhile, I’m head over heels for Carl, and I could see us having a great relationship — if only one of us could get the courage to make a move. — Hopeless Romantic

Dear Hope: The best friends part is not so great. However, to get your bearings, I suggest you make the move and ask Carl if he envisions something more than being good buddies. It is hard to predict how this would play out, and there is the possibility that you might not be able to keep both men as friends. Or, worst-case scenario, they might be unable to maintain their closeness. In other words, it’s a tossup. — Margo, providentially

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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46 Responses so far.

  1. avatar mayma says:

    “The best friends part is not so great.” I’ll say. Does Tom perhaps want you back because he sees Carl getting close to you? Hm? Does Tom perhaps have some maturity issues? Is Carl perhaps deliberately not making a move out of respect for his friend? Does that perhaps demonstrate that Carl has some integrity? Can LW2 perhaps take a break from both of these people and go hang out with some female friends for a change? The more distasteful that sounds, the more important it is to do just that.

    As for LW1, honey, run. This is not a person you should be spending any time with, sorry. Tell an adult, like Margo advises, but also make sure that you don’t subject yourself to this particular flavor of drama, because (believe me) you won’t change it. Always remember that she can drag you down a lot faster than you can pull her up. It’s a skill you will need in adulthood — to recognize and EXIT bad situations and damaged people early. Get busy with something else, pronto, and don’t look back.

    • avatar Lym BO says:

      Good advice all the way around Mayma!

      • avatar JCF4612 says:

        Mayma — I responded before starting to read other comments, and now see you were first to use the key word — pronto — for hanging out with a healthier class of friends. Your remark about learning to recognize and exit bad situations and damaged people early on is something we all need improve on,

  2. avatar Violet says:

    On LW2, I have also tried to stay friends with a guy who broke my heart and now wants to be pals, and maybe pals with benefits. It’s a really bad idea. What reason is there to be best buddies with an ex for whom you still have feelings, and who dumped you. I finally pulled away from the ex, and it’s the best thing I have ever done.

    The new guy doesn’t sound like a great bet, either, both because he hasn’t made a move, and because he’s best friends with the ex. My theory is that if a man is interested, he’s going to make the move. So many women make up excuses why a guy isn’t making a move, and why he’s not calling, and, as they say in “Sex And The City,” it’s usually because he’s just not that into you. She really can’t start a new romance and continue to be best buddies with her ex, who is his best friend.

    The whole situation sounds like this woman needs some therapy to stop being a doormat, and she needs to start fresh with a new man who actually want to have a relationship with her, and acts like it.

    • avatar Robert Smith says:

      I don’t think you should be too harsh in judging Carl for not making the move.  If they are as deep into the best friennds thing as she says, he could easily be very reluctant to risk the damage by moving it to something more.  Of course she wants to make sure HE is not a doormat, but I think it’s worth her giving the go ahead and at least finding out.

    • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

      If she is good friends with Carl, isn’t it likely that he knows how she feels about Tom.  Perhaps that is holding him back.  Although he has feelings for you, if you are pining for another guy, particularly his best friend, it is understandable that he would hold back.  I see nothing that sticks out in the letter that indicates any issue with Carl.  In fact, what is written about Carl indicates that Carl is probably a good guy.  She doesn’t have to wait for Carl to make a move. 

      There are many reasons why a guy will not make a move and only one of the many is that he is not into the woman.  That is too simplistic.  Guessing at his motivations or feelings is unnecessary if you ask and he is willing to respond.

  3. avatar Amy says:

    LW#1: Hang around your “friend” less often. She’s not gonna listen to you or anyone else, and someone with THAT many bad ideas is someone you’re too smart to hang around.

    LW#2: Make your move on Carl, girl! Don’t let a great thing slip through your fingers because you’re worried of hurting the feelings of the guy who stomped on your heart. Margo’s right that you might not be able to maintain both friendships, but that’s up to them. If Tom is too immature to deal with it, it’s not his problem, and it’ll be evident he was only your friend in order to find a way back into your life – and your pants.

  4. avatar Deeliteful says:

    LW#1 – I’m an old lady now, but had a cousin like your friend back in the day. Her mother was not the most observiant person around and my cousin ended up pregnant. It has ended in heartbreak all these 40 years later, Try to enlist the help of an older adult in her family. If you don’t know any go to your guidance counciler; your friend needs help and you may the only one who can help. Wish I had.

    • avatar mayma says:

      A quibble…. “you may be the only one who can help” feeds a martyr-hero thing, an all-too-common trap for people who hang around with drug-users. Drugs are not something a 12-year-old can help with. Run, now.

      • avatar Deeliteful says:

        Maybe I should clarify there were no drugs involved, just plain old unprotected sex so there was no martyr-hero thing going on. I knew my cousin was having sex and should have told someone. It may not have prevented the pregnancy, but at least an adult could be involved in discussing the consequences of one’s actions.

  5. avatar Deeliteful says:


    Forget Tom. He is your past. He hurt you once; he’ll hurt you again. And forget about being friends with him.

    If you are head over heels in love with Carl, take it slow, girl, and see how it plays out. Hate to tell you this, but best friends are all too often in competetion with each other. Guys want who they can’t have and you may just be a challenge between 2 “bros”. See how Carl treats you as a friend before deciding he’s the love of your life.

    Good luck!

  6. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: Although, it may seem to your friend that what she is doing is mature & the way the world works for adults, she is incorrect. Women who want to succeed in life don’t do drugs, get drunk &/or have casual sex. Successful women focus on their studies & keep their reputations clean by hanging out with others who have good values. Distancing yourself from this friend is the only thing to do if you want to rise about it all. Perhaps she has it in her to stop this behavior before it effects the rest of her life. I hope so, but she will have to decide that, not you. Hopefully, some of your comment will stick with her, but it’s time to move on before your relationship with her taints your reputation.

    LW2: I would guess Carl has talked you up so much to Tom that Tom wants you back. There’s a reason it didn’t work the first time. It’s time to express yourself to Carl so he can make his move. Perhaps he is unsure because of your reaction to Tom. Also, it’s possible Tom has told some untruths about you to Carl so Carl will be less interested. Then Tom will win, but fear not, it is possible Tom’s win will be your loss as he tosses you aside yet again. As far as their friendship, I would guess if Carl wins you, Tom will move on to other victims. If Toms wins, you will have lost them both when it is all said and done. Nice guys always finish last because women are fooled by the snakes who hang with them.

  7. avatar Elizabeth L says:

    LW#1 Am I the only one who questions whether this letter is true ?

    LW#2 Time to grow up and leave these best friends alone.

    • avatar ablex says:

      I also wonder – that’s an incredibly articulate 12 year old.

      • avatar Randy Portwood says:

        That makes three of us re: the validity of L #1.

        • avatar luna midden says:

          No, the count is going up-Very few 12 year olds have that much insight together with that vocabulary and writing ability. It could be though, She got a letter, poorly written and her staff took it upon themselves to make it ‘more readable’, more coherent. If the latter is true, shame on them-that is the reason quite a few of us DOUBT some of the letter. I will tell you though, I have emailed a letter to Ask Amy about a year ago-so yes, some are true. I did not reason at first it was my letter-kept going ‘I have a problem like that’, then I realized someone had to have EDITED my letter.

      • avatar John Lee says:

        Come on, why do people have such low expectations when it comes to kids?

        Articulate, yes, INCREDIBLY articulate?  And vocabulary like someone else mentioned?  “substances” and “protection” are the biggest words she used.

        Give me a break, I started to learn English when I came to the US in 4th grade and in 9th grade I tested 1000+ on my SATs (500ish on verbal) and I had two friend who were way smarter than me.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      Elizabeth L: Responded first, and am now reading comments. On LW#1, no you are not the only one. On LW#2, you make an important point.  

  8. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: Terrific of you to be concerned for your friend, and that you have tried warning her. All things considered, she likely will go on not listening to you. Take Margo’s advice. And if your friend continues on her way, you’ll have to get on with your own life (*away from* her and her circle of friends — for your own sake/reputation).

    L #2: I’d ask Carl how he feels. Sit down and ask him. That should help clear the air. If it’s what you want/hope to hear, Carl is probably your best bet. And both surely know they’ve been dating you. Otherwise you’ll be stalemated for a long time to come yet. You apparently don’t want that.

  9. avatar Barbara says:

    LW #1: I am with Elizabeth L. I question the authenticity of this letter. I was a teacher for years and never saw a 12/13 year old who could write like that. And by the way, Margo, with all of the school funding cuts, most schools in my state no longer have a school nurse. In our local high school, there are 3 counselors for 3000 students. Their main purpose is scheduling classes and sending in college application forms. I have never seen one get involved with personal issues. It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s that the work load is crushing enough without getting engaged in trying to help out individual issues.

    LW #2 – Your “first love” sounds like he is just jealous of your new budding romance. He broke your heart. Walk away. For the second guy, why are you waiting for him to talk to you? Why are you talking to friends and hearing from them that he likes you? Is this high school? If it’s high school, I’d say good riddance to both and find someone else. If you are an adult and really like Carl, tell him so and ask if there is a mutual feeling. Grow up and get in charge!

    • avatar Diagoras says:

      I’m sure an editor probably inserted commas in all the right places, but other than that an 8 year old could write that letter. I’m sure my daughter could have at age 8 except that she would get the commas wrong.

  10. avatar JCF4612 says:

    LW#1: I’m skeptical that you are a 12-year-old writing about a 13-year-old, but then I’ll admit to being from the dark ages. As a curiousity, do either of you have parents? If your friend’s friends are “also like that,” then let’s be practical. You need new friends. Pronto.   

    LW#2: Carl may be holding back because he’s aware of your history with Tom, and fears he can’t capture your heart. Follow Margo’s recommendation to learn more. Possibly your best bet for a life partner would be to find someone altogether new who doesn’t know either of these men. 

  11. avatar D C says:

    LW#1 – your friend sounds a lot like my niece.  She thought she knew everything and nobody could tell her how to live her life, so she did the kind of things you describe, and as she got older, she did more of it and added new, more dangerous things as well.  She is a very miserable 28 year old now, with no sign of happyness anywhere on her horizon.  You can only offer your opinion, which you have done.  You cannot force her to change her life.  That’s a hard lesson to learn, but 12 years old is about the right time to learn it. 

    You decide how you want to live YOUR life, and you have to decide what kind of people you want to surround yourself with to live the life you envision.  Doesn’t sound to me like this friend is one of the people that is going to make the cut.  Now comes the hard part:  Forgiving yourself.  Some people think it is their job to “fix” all that is wrong that they see around them.  And they feel guilty if they can’t do it.  Here’s your mantra:  “I am not responsible for that person’s life.”  A good friend will offer advice that is helpful, but that is all they can do.  And you have done it, so you’re finished.  Now it’s time to move on. 

    If this friend wants to be part of your life because she sees that you might have the kind of life she really wants to have after all, then she may come back to you.  And if you want to be her friend, you will accept her and help her at that time.  But right now, I think you’re pretty much done here.  People grow up and grow apart sometimes and friends that were close when we were very young sometimes make choices that make friendship in the future impossible.  Fading away is not mean.  In many cases, it’s saving your own life.  So go save yourself and focus on your future and surround yourself with all the people and activities that will get you where you want to go. 

  12. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    I wondered about the authenticity of LW#1 as well, but I know that kids grow up a lot faster these days…so, perhaps it is legit.  I think Mayma’s advice that she needs to find new friends is good.  But, I’m wondering why no one suggests she talk to her parents about this situation.  If the letter is legit, the LW has a good head on her (I assume its a she) shoulders and that most likely came from having parents who taught her well so they would probably be good listeners and could help her resolve any guilt she might feel for not being able to help her friend out of her self-destructive habits as well as reinforce LW #1’s own good judgment about avoiding premature sex, drinking, and drug-use.   The  LW’s parents may also be able to intervene with the friend’s parents and take some of the weight of this problem off of LW’s head and shoulders.  (Not to mention limit her contact with the friend and her friend’s circle of binge drinking, casual sex indulging, drug using friends.  Of course, the friend’s parents may not be receptive to hearing advice on this matter from anyone…but making the effort may save this friend’s life. 

    As for LW#2, you don’t seem to have set in your head which of these two men you want to be with romantically.  I concur with those who think *Tom* may be a bad bet given he broke your heart already.  As for Carl, tell him how you feel only if you are really through with your feelings for Tom.  If you cannot make up your mind, then do nothing and perhaps look for love outside of this triangle…keeping Carl and Tom as just friends. 

  13. avatar francophile1962 says:

    LW#1 – I haven’t read all of the comments, but has anyone addressed trying to find out who the boys/men are who are having sex with this girl?? They also need to be dealt with to the extent the law allows, based on their age.

  14. avatar Annie H says:

    I can totally believe this letter is legit.  In talking with teenagers and the younger generation, some view sex totally differently then us older folk do.  There are things they think are better to do than sex that us, of the older generation, would not of have done at all or until it was a very established relationship.  If you have a 12 or 13 year old hanging out with 17 year olds and older, the 12 or 13 year old is going to attempt to be like them or do things they think the older friends would do.

    I hope that the LW realizes that she can’t fix her friend and listening is really the only thing she, herself, can do.  This girl won’t listen.  If her parents or the letter writers parents will listen, she should talk to them.  A lot and I mean a lot of parents want to live in denial land that their child would ever do anything like have sex or do drugs.  If she can’t talk to the parents, she should talk to the principal or staff member that acutally cares about the kids.  Their are staff members that care about the kids and then there are staff members that really, really care about the kids.  If it weren’t for the principal of a HS I went to, I don’t know what I would have done.  The school counsellor was a man that really liked his paycheck and that was about it.  Anyway, she should distance herself from this friend socially and be with other friends.  It is really okay to stay away from toxic people.  Hopefully, her friend will get some help.  


  15. avatar Annie H says:

    LW #2-I had a Tom that I was head over heels for that broke my heart, myself.  He wanted to work it out, etc.  It doesn’t work.  There is a reason that you aren’t together.  I tried and no go.  He didn’t want me when he had me but sure wanted me when he didn’t have me.  NOT FUN!  I would say thanks, but not thanks.  Move on and have a talk with Carl.  He might feel that it isn’t his place to say anything because you used to date Tom and probably notices what is going on with your feelings.  If Tom doesn’t want to only be your friend, that is his loss. 

  16. avatar casino la fantastique says:

    LW1, who is she getting drunk/high and having sex with? That’s really what freaks me out about your letter — if she is having sex with men who are much older than her, she is probably being taken advantage of, and you should tell someone. A 12 year old cannot legally consent to sex.

    On the off change she’s sleeping with peers, it’s still a problem, sure — someone that messed up at 12 has probably been through something bad and that is a huge cry for help. If her parents are ignoring her behavior it’s all the more reason to keep it up. Please try to help her. If you do all you feel you can and she still is the same, at least you will have some comfort in the fact that you tried.

  17. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – do what Margo said about getting with an adult and then please get away from her. I would hate to see you downing along with the person you’re trying to save.

    LW2 – Hello!!! 3-way. Make a sandwich and be the meat.   Get started.

    • avatar D C says:

      Not that there’s anything wrong with that… but… um…. you know Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg did a video about that…so I guess that makes it OK

      • avatar R Scott says:

        Uh…yep. And if there’s a girl (LW) it’s not gay so the guys shold be cool. Win/win…

  18. avatar Divad Notlob says:

    There are two phrases in this letter that leave me highly suspicious of its authenticity: “beyond repair,” and “low opinion of men.”

    I have yet to meet the 12-year-old who would use either of these phrases in a normal conversation.

    OT–the spam controls on this site are maddening. I could access this morning, but not this afternoon. This is about the fifth time something has gone wonky with access to this site. Margo, I hope you kept your receipt.

    • avatar Diagoras says:

      I guess my kids must have a broad vocabulary, then, because I have no trouble imagining it. Maybe she’s just a smart kid or maybe people have low expectations of kids.

      • avatar Sandy B says:

        I could have easily written this as a 12 year old. And those phrases aren’t that sophisticated. While there are plenty of inarticulate 12 year olds, to be sure- there are many that are not.

    • avatar D C says:

      Regarding the spam controls — my home IP address has been banned from this site.  I try to open a column and I get a snarky “Behave and quit spamming” message.  Personally, I think that probably came from someone on here who took issue with something I posted.  So the only time I can read this site is during my work day.  And I have some Fridays off, so I miss out on Margo’s Friday Columns until the following Monday. 

  19. avatar Sam Fox says:

    I’ve registered specifically so I could comment on the commentators of LW1 not being articulate enough to write to an advice column. I must disagree with those people. I see it in many different advice columns where young teens write in.

    I WAS AN ARTICULATE TEEN! This is obviously a person who cares enough about her (his?) friend to try to get help for her.

    Granted, I’m something of a bookworm; in 9th grade English we took an aptitude test and I scored college level comprehension. I had friends who couldn’t write their way out of anything with so many errors, but they also didn’t want help. I had a lot of other girls in my junior high English class who would come to me hoping I’d help revise their papers or let them copy my work.

    I understand people doubting the authenticity of a girl writing for help but I could easily have been LW1. Just because you didn’t or couldn’t do something back then is no reason to doubt that someone else can. Not all teenagers are the lazy peons people assume them to be. I kept journals of my experiences back then, all well written. I kept my English papers, a lot my teachers were surprised a student could write so well.

    • avatar Divad Notlob says:

      Here’s what I think is the deal behind the letter: I think an adult close to the subject wrote it so they can seem like a concerned peer, rather than a pushy adult. I imagine now that it’s been published, somehow the letter will be brought to the subject’s attention—in the hope of illustrating to her that her behavior is even too negative and “out there” for her much more sensible “friends.”

      • avatar Divad Notlob says:

        Re LW2: Don’t wait too long to make a decision, or you’ll be gnashing your teeth when you look out on the dance floor and see Tom leaving with Carl.

        Girl, it has happened to me and it was not pretty.

  20. avatar snowwhite4577 says:

    I have to question the authenticity of LW#1…simply because of some of the phrases used, and the level of thinking.  Who is thinking about a friend being hooked on drugs, and having a “low opinion of men,”….I am not sure that a 12 year old can make that connection.  But hey, what do I know?

    My biggest question?  WHERE THE HELL ARE THE PARENTS? Child protection services needs to be called….the LW needs to tell her parents and than the parents need to call child protection.  Because, there is no supervison, whatsoever.

  21. avatar ann penn says:

    Re LW1: I’m not that up on teen behavior, but if this letter is legit, I might suspect early sexual abuse perpetuated on the friend, given her self destructive behavior and casual sexual activity. At any rate, she is not of legal age to have sex and someone in authority should be clued in.

    Re LW2: It is possible the LW is not female…

  22. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Letter #2 – My advice would be to hang onto both friendships and keep them as such.  A true deep friendship, whether it be with a man or woman is so rare, when you are blessed with it, hang onto them.

    Just because you are attracted to Carl and you feel it is mutual, doesn’t mean you have to act on those feelings. Especially because he and Tom are best friends. If you were to decide to make something romantic out of your connection with Carl, it would definitely affect his connection with Tom and your relationship with Tom as well.
    Don’t err on the side so many in life do by believing that just because they feel a connection with a close friend, it is a sign they are destined for love. That isn’t true. 

    Keep your friends and your romance/sex partners separate.  Look elsewhere for love.      

  23. avatar impska says:

    LW1: I just want to say to folks on the board that if you have young daughters and you think that the sort of thing described in this letter don’t happen – they do.

    When I was 12, I had two classmates – a girl and a boy – who were in a relationship and having sex. He also verbally and physically abused her. One day, she asked to go to the washroom and the boy announced to the class (including the guidance councilor who was giving a lecture on nutrition) that she had a pregnancy scare but it’s ok because she just got her period. You know what the guidance councilor did? Nothing. Kept on talking about apples after she got over the shock. It was reported to neither child’s parents. When they finally broke up, she had to change schools because he and his friends bullied her, calling her nasty names and telling people about their sexual acts.

    I knew a cousin of a friend, who at 12, would go into chat rooms and meet adult men, whom she would then have sex with. She bragged about it to her cousin constantly. She also frequently had sex with her older brother’s friends. One day, she ran away from home to live with a 22 year old man in a trailer – she was 13.

    A short while later, at 14, I had a girl tell me that she wanted to be a virgin until marriage so she and her (same aged) boyfriend only did anal. A different girl would come to school and tell me how sore she was from all of the sex she’d had with her (adult) boyfriend the night before.

    Was there sexual abuse involved in these cases? Maybe. I don’t know. But if you think that normal 12 year olds aren’t hearing this stuff from their peers – they are. They are hearing about sex, they know people who are doing drugs and worse – they are getting information from their peers.

    I guarantee you, you do NOT want your 12 year olds to get their sex/drug/alcohol education from their peers. Please talk to them. And always keep your household computer in a public place in your home. Never your child’s bedroom.