ETCETERA / ANgST: Expert advice on your problems

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After a party last weekend, my 14-year-old daughter casually asked: 'What would you say if I told you I'd tried dope?' I realised this was probably a way of saying that she had. I felt in a difficult position, because she knows I have smoked cannabis in my time. I told her that using it socially on occasions would probably do no harm, but that doing so regularly could cause damage and reduce motivation. I said I felt very differently about other drugs, and would be upset if she were to take those. Was this a sensible reply, and what guidance can I give a London teenager who is inevitably growing up in a drug culture?

It is difficult to know how best to guide a teenager on the question of drugs. Being too authoritarian can lead to defiance, but being overly permissive can leave the young person without any guidelines. There needs to be open communication, and a respect for the young person's views. However, parents should not be afraid to say - loudly and firmly - that they have an interest and a responsibility where their teenagers' health and safety are concerned. At some stage most young people will experiment with drugs, so the best approach is to make sure they are well informed and well prepared - and that they know the family will provide support if they get into difficulties.

John Coleman, Trust for the Study of Adolescence, 23 New Rd, Brighton, Sussex BN1 1WZ. Tel: 0273 693311.

I am male, 47 and divorced. About a year ago I became friendly with a man in a similar situation who lives in my street. I enjoyed visiting him, and occasionally going out for meals and weekend walks, but about a month ago I went to visit and he suddenly became very emotional. He told me how he feels lonely, believes there is no sense in life and that he has been a failure in his relationships with women. I was very taken aback and, frankly, unnerved. I didn't feel I knew what to say and since then I've avoided being alone with him. I feel unkind and don't want to hurt his feelings, but I really don't want this to develop into a closer or more involving friendship.

I wonder how long you have been divorced. Sometimes men in marriages mislay the ability to relate to other men and find it hard to start doing so again 20 or so years on from school or college. One useful thing to remember is that when people become 'emotional' they rarely expect words of wisdom. Comfort and support are what they need, but it can be difficult for men to get the hang of offering these things to others. Perhaps you and your friend could explore some of these ideas together in an academic way so that neither becomes unnerved. The recent distance might well disappear and the original enjoyment return. If this is hard, why not explore with another friend (or counsellor) how the risk / reward balance might be weighted if you tried to revive your friendship.

David Smallacombe, Kensington Consultation Centre, 47 South Lambeth Rd, London SW8 IRH. Tel: 071-793 0148.

I left school at 16 and married quickly. My children are now at school and I would love to study with a view to working. People have suggested vocational courses but the thing I really want to try is science. It fascinated me at school, but I don't know if I'd be any good at it. I fear finding myself surrounded by clued-up men who think it is inappropriate for a woman to be doing this subject.

The best advice we can give is this - stick with it. You are part of a larger movement of women who have been returning to education and training. Many, like you, want to try such subjects as maths, science and technology. Some colleges run special access-to-science courses. These are bridging courses and attract mainly mature students like yourself. In our experience tutors will do everything they can to make sure male students don't undercut your confidence. After a course like this, you will be able to decide exactly what area of science you want to specialise in. Statistics suggest women students studying traditionally 'male' courses are less likely to fail or drop out.

Gill Kirkup and Liz Whitelegg, Open University Women into Science and Engineering Group, Walton Hall, Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire MK7 6AA. Tel: 0908 652412.

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