Adolescent tries to help friends who cut

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Amy responds to a grandmother who wonders about giving gifts to a non-biological granddaughter.

Dear Amy: I am 12 years old. I have three friends who cut. One of them, "Jane," was a cutter until her parents found out about it and got her a therapist.

Jane has shown much improvement and no longer cuts. She is much happier and doesn't miss cutting at all.

My other two friends have kept it a secret from everybody but me. They do not seem to find it a problem, and they don't believe what they are doing is wrong. I feel strongly against it. I want to help them, but I'm not sure how. Every time I try to talk about it with them, they shut down.

One of my friends says that getting a therapist or other form of help can be incredibly traumatizing, and that it doesn't usually help.

I don't know whether that is true because I do not cut and do not understand the reasoning (or lack thereof) behind it.

How should I approach this situation?

— Worried

Dear Worried: "Cutting" is the practice of self-scratching or cutting the skin until it bleeds. There is evidence that people who cut do so when they are experiencing stress or anxiety. They say that feeling the pain of cutting gives them a sort of release. This is a dangerous practice — unless this cycle is interrupted, cutting can accelerate.

I share your concern about your friends. You sound like a very good and concerned friend, but this is way beyond your ability to manage it.

You have proof that "Jane" has been helped by her parents and a therapist. This is definitely the way to go.

Tell your folks and also your school's counselor what is going on with your friends. They need professional, adult intervention, and you are being a fantastic friend by helping them get it.

Dear Amy: My son, who is 45, left my laptop on, and when I opened it, his Facebook page was up. When I looked at it, I saw a message from my niece that has me really upset. It said, "What you did to me when we were younger was wrong."

She says it has taken her a long time to forgive those people that have hurt her. She's currently in an alcohol/drug rehab program.

I sent her a message and asked her to call me because I want to know what he did to her. Should I leave this alone?

For some reason, I want him to know that I know what he did, even though it was a long time ago and they were teens.

— Conflicted Mom

Dear Mom: It will be very challenging to tackle this compassionately without knowing what transpired all those years ago. You should approach this with an attitude of openness and concern (not an attitude of "I know what you did..."). You will have to disclose how you saw this message — if your son accuses you of snooping, remind him that the message was housed on your laptop.

Ask your son to tell you the story, but be aware that you may not receive an accurate (or any) account. Contact your niece again by phone, Facebook message or mail and offer her your compassion and a supportive ear. Depending on the seriousness of the original event, you'll then need to decide if you want to involve other people (your niece's parents, for instance) to try to resolve this episode so that everyone in the family can heal and move forward.

Dear Amy: Responding to "The New Minority," the "classy" smoker whose boyfriend is irritated by her occasional smoking, I was also a smoker, and there is nothing classy about smoking except for the perception of the smoker.

Although I'd only smoke outdoors, my wife and kids were upset by it. They asked me to quit for a few years. I fought it for a long while, but finally I quit smoking. Not only are they happier, but so am I. I feel better physically and mentally, and we all spend much more time together because I'm not sitting out on the deck puffing by myself.

— Ex-Smoker

Dear Ex: To be fair, this writer was being sardonic when she described her three-cigarette a week habit as "classy."

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