Q: Since my daughter started eighth grade, I’ve noticed a big change in her. She goes to her room and locks the door. She has changed many of her friends. I feel like I don’t know her. She’s been wearing long sleeves even though the weather is warming up. One of my parent friends suggested that she might be cutting herself. What do I do?
A: Some changes in behavior in middle school are to be expected. However, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t check things out. Middle school kids are at a point where they are struggling for independence. Her going upstairs and shutting her door and even changing some of her friendships could all be a normal part of figuring out who she is. But adolescents still need the guidance and involvement of their parents to navigate this confusing time.
The more serious issue is the possibility of cutting. I know it can be a scary proposition and you are afraid of what you might find, but it’s best to find out what’s going on right now. In a gentle way, bring up the subject of her arms being covered. Is she not feeling well? She may resist responding or become angry or sad. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to make sure that she is safe; therefore, you cannot take “no” for an answer when you ask to see her arms.
If you find that she is cutting herself, then it’s time for a discussion and some action now. Underscore how important she is to you. It’s fine to share your fear and worry with her. The next step is to get help before she hurts herself further. Your primary care physician and your school counselor can give you an immediate referral for a qualified community counselor.
Your daughter may be coping with painful emotions by hurting herself physically. It doesn’t mean that you have done something wrong or that you are a bad parent for not knowing what is going on with her. Unfortunately, self-injury seems to be on the increase. Movies and television shows have publicized such behavior through teen characters, and that in turn prompts more adolescents to try it.
Take this time as an opportunity to encourage more communication between you and your daughter. Make plans for the two of you to have dinner, go shopping or get ice cream. She will likely roll her eyes, but she needs you, so ignore her attitude and commit to developing a supportive, comforting relationship with her. She’ll be glad you did.
Q: Summer vacation is fast approaching for my kids but not for my husband or me. Every summer, we struggle to find things for the kids to do to fend off boredom. We go on a family vacation for a week, but that still leaves over a month of idle time. Any ideas?
A: Check out your town hall’s website for ideas. If your kids are old enough, it might be time for them to consider being a camp counselor. They might need working papers, which can be obtained through their school if they are 14 years old. Another great website that has a lot of activities broken down by topic is www.capitaldistrictfun.com/big-ol-list-of-links-for-you. In addition, there are many camps available at college campuses. You can search by campus or by activity here: www.summeroncampus.com.