Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Daughter Exposed to Cutting While at Camp

DEAR HARRIETTE: My 13-year-old daughter just got home from camp, where she had a great time. I did learn something disturbing, though: One of the girls was caught cutting herself in the bathroom and had to be sent home. It turns out that several of the girls have tried cutting their wrists bit by bit over time. I was shocked.

I don’t think that this behavior occurs at my daughter’s school. When I asked her if she has seen other girls doing this before, at camp or at school, my daughter said no. I’m worried about sending my daughter back to this camp, even though she has gone there since she was little. I’m afraid of what she is being exposed to. How can I protect my daughter when kids around her are doing stuff like this? -- Protecting My Teen, Salem, Massachusetts

DEAR PROTECTING MY TEEN: It’s great that your daughter is talking to you about what happened at camp. You want to keep the conversation going so that she feels she can tell you everything. Listen intently, but without too many questions; teens hate when parents start with the grand inquisition. Ask her if she has ever considered hurting herself. Pay attention to how she responds, including her verbal and non-verbal cues. If you think she may be interested in such behavior, a psychologist is in order. If not, just keep listening.

As far as camp goes, contact the camp leader and have a conversation about the incidence of cutting at the camp and how it handled this. Ask about any other psychological challenges that campers have faced. Press for answers. Let the camp leader know that your daughter wants to keep attending, but you are concerned about her safety. You will have to decide before next summer if you think this environment is safe enough for her to return.

Allergic Reader Can't Watch Neighbor's Dog

DEAR HARRIETTE: A friend who lives in my building has a small dog. My son enjoys playing with the dog when we see each other in the courtyard or on the street. I am allergic to dogs, so I do not touch the dog or engage it in any way. My friend is going on a business trip, and he asked me if we could keep his dog while he is gone for a week. I cannot do that. My allergies are real. I cannot risk bringing a dog into my home, plus it’s a huge responsibility to walk a dog, feed a dog, take care of a dog -- especially when it’s something that we aren't used to. My son overheard the request and is eager to get me to say yes. I cannot. How can I let them both down easily? -- Dog-Free Zone, Queens, New York

DEAR DOG-FREE ZONE: Remind your friend of your allergies, and apologize but tell him you cannot take his dog. Do the same with your son. You may need to explain more graphically what happens to you when you have an allergic reaction to a dog so that he can have compassion for why you must say no.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)