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Tell Me About It: Approach troubled niece with open ears

By Carolyn Hax, Washington Post
Friday 7 September 2018 20.00

Q: I set up time to hang out with my 14-year-old niece, who is very sweet and also has been getting in trouble — skipping school, lying to family, etc. She reminds me so much of myself at her age. I figure I can relate to her in that regard and try to share what I know now that I’m decades older.

Is talking/listening to her how I would have wanted someone to talk/listen to me at that age a good enough approach?

Heart-to-Heart

A: Worth a try, certainly. But with strong caveats: She is not you, no matter how strong the resemblance; and your knowing now what you needed to hear then doesn’t mean you would have listened then.

Err on the side of listening. That way she can tell you, in her own way, what approach she’d welcome right now.

Ears Open: Your description of your niece as "very sweet" combined with her behaviors seems incongruous; in my experience, rebellious teenagers tend to be sullen and taciturn.

Either way, there may be something deeper going on. Just for example, skipping school would make sense if she was being badly bullied. Or something else might be the culprit.

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Carolyn: You’re probably right — but I do think "sweet" and boundary-pushing can coexist, for what it’s worth. Different faces for different people, for example, or self-destructive choices versus angry ones.

Driving: If you’re driving someplace together, then try broaching tough topics in the car. There will be fewer distractions, and it makes it OK to avoid eye contact since it’s not a face-to-face confrontation. Walking together can have the same effect. It’s just a very different dynamic than eyeing each other across a table.

Carolyn: So true, thank you. Walking (or gardening or cooking together) can also open people up more to conversation.


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