Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

African-American Teen Bullied at Boarding School

DEAR HARRIETTE: I’m a 17-year-old African-American girl who attends a mostly-white boarding high school in Ohio. My parents are very successful politicians and want me to get the best education. I’m thankful to go to my school, but I get picked on for being black, and I feel lonely most of the time. I have one friend, and she helps me get through the days, but most of the time I get pushed, called names, and once I even got things thrown at me. I don’t want to worry my parents, but I’m so unhappy here. What should I do? -- Lonely Girl, Columbus, Ohio

DEAR LONELY GIRL: There is no way your parents can help you if you keep this abusive behavior a secret. You are not expected to handle this on your own, even though you are in boarding school. Sit down with your parents this summer, and tell them what you have experienced. Be specific and name names. Your parents will need that information in order to address this. If you have spoken with any school officials about the egregious behavior, share that information as well. Part of the discussion with your parents needs to be an evaluation of whether you should stay at that school or go somewhere else.

Unfortunately, racism still exists in our country, and you have been the victim of it. Your parents cannot shield you from it entirely, but if you are miserable at that school, you can find a more welcoming place to finish your education.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am 27 years old, and my son is 6. I work and make a decent amount of money, but not enough to move out of my parents' home. I’m tired of living under their roof because of their negative attitude toward me. They always tell me I’m a disappointment and that I don’t do anything, but I contribute to paying bills and make sure to bring food to the house. I understand that it’s their house and their rules, but I think I should still be respected. What can I do to change this? -- Need to Move, Austin, Texas

DEAR NEED TO MOVE: It sounds like you are living in an unhealthy environment. It does not help for your parents to disparage you. This is tough on your child as well, and could have lasting effects.

What can you do? Start by speaking to your parents and reminding them of what you are doing to set your life on course. Point out the ways in which you help in the home, and acknowledge that you appreciate them letting you and your child stay there.

Tell your parents that it is upsetting to you that they continually disparage you. Explain that it hurts your feelings and makes your child uncomfortable. Ask them if they can try to be kinder. At the same time, start looking for another living situation. Look for a roommate who would be comfortable with a mother and child. Explore your options until you find something that is affordable and suitable for you. Your plan must be to find a place of your own.

(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.)