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Dear Demetria:

My sister is mad at me for taking her 18-year-old kid for STD testing at the kid’s request. She said I took her “parenting choice” from her. I apologized. Was I wrong? —Anonymous

No, you weren’t wrong. But I do get why the mother is mad, although her anger seems misplaced. I’m also glad that you apologized to keep the peace. This doesn’t need to turn into a family argument.

The “kid” is legally an adult. But he or she could have been tested alone or with a friend without asking permission or informing Mom well before age 18. (All 50 states and the District of Columbia explicitly allow minors to consent [pdf] to STI, or sexually transmitted infection, services.) You weren’t needed to sign any documents or give permission. At best, you were there for emotional support and maybe to provide a ride.

There was no “parenting choice” to deny your sister at play here, unless your sister wanted the right to say no to the kid’s request. If that’s the case, then it’s best she wasn’t in the loop. If an 18-year-old says that he or she wants to be tested, you make sure the “kid” is tested and ask questions later.  

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For whatever reason, the 18-year-old didn’t want to tell Mom what was going on. I completely get why. I am married and well into my 30s, and sex is a frequent topic in my writing. It is still somewhat uncomfortable to talk to my mother about sex, although she has insisted since I was a child that “you can talk to me about anything.” Of course I can. I just don’t want to.

I am delighted that the 18-year-old went to you. You’re an older adult whom he or she fully trusts. The 18-year-old is sexually active and wanted to be tested, whether because he or she believed something was wrong, there was the potential of being exposed to an STD or just to make sure everything was A-OK. Whatever the reason for the testing, the 18-year-old was being responsible at this juncture. That should be acknowledged and encouraged by everyone.

Since the 18-year-old trusts you so much, you’re also in a position to dole out some needed advice. I hope you took the opportunity with your niece or nephew to have a grown-up sex talk, one that includes getting tested with a partner before sex, using condoms consistently and perhaps exploring birth control options. 

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I’m sure your sister would like to have known about all of this before it happened, but it was her child’s job to tell her if he or she wanted to, not yours. The 18-year-old’s health is obviously a priority over everything else, and an adult’s health issues are his or her business to disclose—or not—to whomever he or she sees fit. It’s one of the perks of being an adult.

I do wish Mom could focus on the bigger picture here. She’s built a great village for her 18-year-old. When her child needs help and doesn’t want to go to her, her child has at least one other responsible resource who loves him or her and has his or her best interests at heart. That is a blessing.

Still, I get why she’s “mad.” She was left out of the circle of trust. There was a potential health issue with her child that she wasn’t informed of. Legally, she didn’t have to be notified because of the child’s age, but even if her child were 50 with grown children of his or her own, she would want to know if her child might not be in good health. She is Mom, and that is what moms do. Also, she’s hurt because her child didn’t come to her but went to you instead. For her child to seek out someone else to confide in over her has to sting a little.

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This can be fixed. You’ve already apologized, which was the smart thing to do even if you’re not wrong per se. Again, sometimes it’s just about keeping the peace. I suggest that you also have an open discussion with your sister, reinforcing that you love your nephew or niece, will do anything to keep him or her safe, and didn’t help her child with malicious intent.

Good luck!

Demetria Lucas D’Oyley is a contributing editor at The Root, a life coach and the author of Don’t Waste Your Pretty: The Go-to Guide for Making Smarter Decisions in Life & Love as well as A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. She answers your dating and relationship questions on The Root each week. Feel free to ask anything at askdemetria@theroot.com.