Dinner table conflict
Illustration: Pierre Le-Tan

Q: Every day after school, my neighbor's 9-year-old daughter comes by to visit my daughter, who's 5. She often ends up staying for dinner. Her parents never call to find out where she is, so I feel sorry for her, but I resent being a daycare center. How can I handle this?

A: The conflict between being kind and being exploited is a common ethical dilemma, and there are seldom easy answers. Maybe a simple phone call to the parents will solve the problem. You might say: "I just wanted to make sure you knew Susie was at our house. We love having her, but I just wanted to check that she isn't supposed to be someplace else." If the response is alarming, ranging from "Oh, we don't know where she is half the time—good thing she's great at fending for herself" to a slurred "Who's Susie?" then you have an obligation to investigate and perhaps to contact Child Protective Services. If the answer is reasonable—"Oh, no, we know Susie is with you!"—then you still have a duty to discuss her home situation, delicately, with the girl herself, and her parents. This isn't meddling; it's being responsible. — Jack Marshall, president, ProEthics