Today’s first Ask Carolyn concerns disturbed teens, a growing problem, with a brief discussion of the Carter conviction of involuntary manslaughter for text messages. The second concerns what happens to that engagement ring if the wedding is called off.
I am concerned about my 15-year-old daughter and her relationship with one other teen who is 16 and has access to a car to drive. My daughter lives primarily with her mother, my ex-wife, and visits with me. It seems there is more and more distance between my daughter and me, particularly when I try to talk to her about this other teen, who I consider a bad influence. I’ll call my daughter, Susie—but this is not her real name. Susie has several good friends, but I am skeptical of the teen who can drive, I’ll call Erica. I have seen some texts (on my daughter’s phone) from Erica suggesting fast cars, sketchy drugs and laughing about teen suicide. One text suggests that Susie and Erica are swapping medications. Susie is on an anti-depressant. There is concern about bipolar disorder with Susie. I would prefer that Susie never be alone with Erica, but even if she and Erica are not alone, there is all the social media Susie’s mother allows without supervision. What should I do?
Carolyn Answers …
I am very concerned about your daughter Susie, and Erica too for that matter. Very bad things can happen. I am talking about happenings that have either lifelong consequences, such as a teen winds up dead in a car accident and the other teen ends up in prison or life and death consequences, such as suicide, which is the number three cause of death in Susie’s age group. Unfortunately, peer pressure is extremely high among teens, and one bad decision or judgment from these immature brains can be life altering. I take these problems seriously.
My thoughts go to the involuntary manslaughter conviction of Michelle Carter (age 17 at the time of the incident) for text messages that urged her boyfriend Conrad Roy III to commit suicide. He did, and she faces up to 20 years in prison, with the sentencing to be in August 2017. Now those are consequences. Michelle was on an antidepressant, which a psychiatrist in the trial stated altered her brain. Michelle was not even present when Roy killed himself. Both Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy were very disturbed young people. A more typical involuntary manslaughter charge is killing someone in a vehicle while driving drunk, which also happens to teens.
It is beyond the scope of this Ask Carolyn to address whether involuntary manslaughter is an appropriate conviction for text messaging. I hope all readers understand that these teen problems are extremely serious.
While there are no perfect answers for dealing with teen peer pressures, here’s some food for thought:
Talk to Susie’s mother, your ex-wife. Arm yourself with some data about teens who have found themselves in live altering bad situations with drugs, suicide and fast vehicles. If possible, enlist a psychologist who can help with strategies.
Help Susie develop decision making. Let’s face it. You cannot be there all the time with a teen. As your teen for input on decisions you are making on a regular basis.
Talk through the pros and cons of choices, including the benefits and consequences. This is going to take one-on-one time with your teen. For example, maybe you are at dinner with your teen and you have had one glass of wine. You are driving, and you have to decide whether to have the second glass. Talk with the teen about deciding whether to have that second glass with the pros and cons. Talk about the consequences of a wreck or a DWI. You as an adult probably have a mature process for decision making, so share the process with your teen.
Do not make your teen your best friend. Your teen needs a parent, especially now.
Teach the value of good friendships and how to say no to potential friendships that are destructive.
I’m not going to use my real name, but I’ll call myself Sam. I bought “Sallie” an engagement ring. I paid almost $6,000 for this beautiful ring. I don’t even have the ring paid for. We had been dating for two years when I asked her to marry me. I have changed my mind, and I really don’t think this is going to work out. She spends too much time with her girlfriends. I just don’t think she is devoted to me. I want to break off the engagement. One of my friends says that she gets the ring if we break up and it’s my fault. I want my ring back. While I want to let her down easy, I still want the ring back. Can I get the ring back?
Carolyn Answers …
Sam, this is almost always an emotional thunderstorm, and the engagement ring becomes the eye of the storm. States vary regarding the law, but North Carolina follows the theory of conditional gift. An engagement ring is a tentative gift, and is dependent on whether the marriage takes place. If the marriage does not take place, the giver of the ring gets the ring back.
You should get the ring back, but practically unless she throws it at you – you may have practical hurdles regarding this ring. The law is on your side, but the emotions of your soon to be former fiancee to be may not be so easy.
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Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.