Sense & Sensitivity by Harriette Cole

Teen Daughter Too Stressed By Exams

DEAR HARRIETTE: My daughter had a horrible time this year going through midterms. She bit all of her fingernails down to nubs. She didn’t sleep well for a whole week. She was irritable every single day. And nothing I did helped her. In fact, my very presence seemed to annoy her. I know it’s because the pressure is intense at her school, and she feels that she has to do well or she won’t get in to college.

I think I should speak to the guidance counselor or principal to find out if the school can do anything to support the students during this particularly stressful period. There are so many stories of teen suicide and drug and alcohol abuse. I feel certain that some of these kids are going to crack in one way or another. I would like to help in any way that I can so that my daughter and her classmates aren’t so wigged out. What do you recommend? -- Beyond Stressed Out

DEAR BEYOND STRESSED OUT: If you think that your child is in danger of hurting herself beyond her bitten-down nails, you definitely should step in to see how you can alleviate some of her stress. Make sure that you provide her with healthy food to support her during this tough period. Be attentive and present so that she knows that you are willing to help her at a moment’s notice.

Do contact the school and address your concerns for your child and others; suggest that the stakes are dangerously high, and you worry that the students need mental health support. Form a group with other parents to voice your concerns. There is power in numbers. Stand up and make it clear that you need the school to help the students learn how to handle stress so that they will not resort to self-harm. Stay on officials as you also watch and engage your child as much as possible.

DEAR HARRIETTE: I am very close to my sister, and I am also very close to my sister’s child. We talk a lot, and it’s wonderful for both of us. My sister used to think it was good, but now I don’t know. When I mention things that we discuss, my sister seems to get a little peeved. But if I don’t mention highlights of our chats, I worry that my sister thinks that I am withholding information. How can I smooth out this situation so that everybody is comfortable? -- Friends Across Generations

DEAR FRIENDS ACROSS GENERATIONS: Check back in with your sister to reassure her of how grateful you are for the close relationship the two of you have and the one that you have with your niece. Celebrate your sister for all she is doing to ensure that her daughter has a great life. Let her know that you consider it a privilege to be close to both of them, and that you hope she feels the same.

Do not feel that you have to share the blow-by-blow of every conversation you have with your niece. Stay attentive and share when necessary.

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