DEAR AMY: My 16-year-old son wants a tattoo, which I generally do not have a problem with.
However, he wants to have a cross tattooed on his arm. To him the cross symbolizes acceptance.
He is affiliated with no religion and has not had a Christian upbringing.
I think that a tattoo of such a sacred symbol for many people could seem disrespectful or even offensive to Christians. He and his mother think I am nuts.
What are your thoughts? -- Concerned Father
DEAR CONCERNED: Your son is correct -- the cross is a powerful symbol, and one of the things it symbolizes is acceptance.
I can't imagine that sporting a cross tattoo would be offensive to Christians; only that it might inspire some assumptions and conversations that your son should prepare himself to have. (For what it's worth, in researching this issue I came across a recent statement from the former Archbishop of Canterbury, head of the Church of England, stating that Christians should not be offended by non-Christians wearing crosses.) Your son might be using this issue to convey his curiosity about Christianity; if so, I hope you will support his interest.
Your family's conversation about this is a good one, and part of it should also focus on the larger issue: When he reaches maturity, your son has a right to do just about whatever he wants with his own body, but there are consequences for every choice he makes.
You and your family should also research the laws and restrictions in your jurisdiction regarding tattooing. At his age he will need parental consent and a parent to be present when he gets inked.
DEAR AMY: I live in a three-flat in Chicago and have a neighbour question.
I am throwing myself a birthday party at home. One set of neighbours is great, but the other neighbour has turned out to be a bit of a nut case.
I really don't want to invite either neighbour to my apartment but feel this strange sense of requirement to do so. What is your take on this? -- Worried in Chicago
DEAR WORRIED: You should not invite anyone to celebrate your birthday with you at your home who you don't genuinely want to host.
Sometimes the best way to be a good neighbour is to maintain a friendly relationship without getting too close, too soon. An invitation before you are ready would set a precedent for a relationship you might not be prepared (or want) to have.
When you live in close quarters with neighbours, and there is a possibility of disruption with guests coming and going (and the probability of more noise than usual), it is polite to give them a heads-up. You can do this by note, saying, "I'm having some friends over on Saturday night. I hope it doesn't cause any disruption for you, but please let me know if there's a problem."
If everything goes well, it would be thoughtful for you to follow up with your neighbours the next day with a "thank you" and a slice of cake.
DEAR AMY: The impressive aspect of the letter from "Confused," (written by a 12-year-old boy interested in converting to Judaism) is that he has spent time to study and understand the religion he has chosen.
Most children (and probably most adults) simply adopt the religion of their parents without making (or being allowed) any choice. And I suspect that many people have not "studied" their religion at all; it is just expected that they will observe the religion of their family.
This young man should be commended for reading and studying and then deciding what religion he wishes to believe. It does not sound like his parents will be very cooperative, but, really, they should be superproud! -- Jim in Paramus, N.J.
DEAR JIM: I was also impressed by this boy's interest and determination to explore converting to Judaism.
I think it's somewhat common and developmentally appropriate for adolescents to think seriously about religion. This can lead to important and challenging questions. I didn't get the sense that "Confused's" strict Catholic parents would welcome his conversion, but he didn't sound easily deterred.