DEAR STRAIGHT TALK: My daughter, "Paige," is 14. Her mother and I divorced four years ago and my ex has always said ugly things about me. Somehow, Paige seemed to know these things weren't true and we had a great relationship. Three months ago, Paige was very disrespectful to me over the phone and I cut off her cellphone when this behavior continued. During this time, I was pursuing a new custody agreement to prevent my ex from using the children to gouge me financially. Paige told me to stop pursuing the new agreement or she'd never see me again. Now she won't talk to me except to threaten to ask a judge to let her refuse visitations. What should I do?
— Paige's Dad
Dear Paige's Dad: Please study each word by Beau, Jennifer, and Bird. Advice on this topic doesn't get better. As for Shelby's advice: it's a harsh delivery, but you can take it to the bank.
Beau, 18, Sacramento.: My parents divorced when I was 1 and I constantly went back and forth between homes. Children feel responsible for their parents' divorce, and in a custody battle, think they must love one parent more than the other. Since your daughter can't safely show affection for you around her mom, she sets up a defense mechanism that shuts you out. I've been there. My mom talked bad about my father and I agreed with her to be safe. Just remember, your daughter loves you. Give her some space while gently reassuring her that you're there. Don't talk bad about her mother, and above all, tell her/show her that you love her at every opportunity. My dad eventually became one of my closest friends. He gave me space and was there for me no matter what.
Shelby, 16, Auburn: Shutting off her cell over one rude conversation was about the stupidest thing you could do! A girl's cell is her life! For starters, hook her phone back up.
Jennifer, 14, Northern Calif.: She is going to want to see you. Let her cool off a couple weeks to where she starts feeling bad about what she said. Then turn on her cell and ask her to lunch. Ask how her life is going -- and please, seem interested! Tell her you want her to be happy and to be with you. Ask what she likes to do, then do those things with her. (Hint: No 9,000-mile hikes! Maybe bowling, movies, shopping, things a 14-year-old girl likes -- and let her bring a friend.) When you're winning her back, don't have your significant other around; give her time just with you. Don't speak bad about her mom, and don't ask, "What's your mom saying to you?" Finally, apologize. Don't say, "I don't know what I did to make you so mad." That's not an apology, that's placing blame back on her.
Bird, 17, High Falls, N.Y.: My father and I had the worst relationship. He favored my little brother, who was easier to deal with, than his 12-year-old daughter, who just wanted to be on the phone or go to the mall. I remember (with regrets) saying, "I wouldn't care if my father died." I despised his girlfriend and wouldn't stay with him because of her. Now my dad accepts that and makes time just for me. Somehow our harsh conflict made me cherish him and we get along better than ever. He treats me like an adult and we talk on a mature level. Regarding the new custody agreement, if it is morally right, push on with it. Your daughter will eventually understand.
(Adapted from the column of March 12, 2008. Straight Talk TNT.org is a nonprofit that tackles youth's toughest issues with youth's wisest advice. Go deeper in today's conversation or ask a question by clicking www.StraightTalkTNT.org or writing PO Box 1974 Sebastopol 95473)