Dear Dr G.,
I am really beside myself. My teenager, unlike other teens and their parents, confides in me quite a bit. I have always prided myself on the quality and closeness of our relationship. Now, I am asking myself if I'd be better off if my daughter told me less. You see, she confided in me that her friend is cutting herself and she doesn't know what to do about it. I feel that this is too heavy a burden for my daughter and her friend to carry and I feel that I should tell the girl's mother. I have run this by my husband and he disagrees. He says that it is the teenage girl's responsibility to tell her mother and our daughter should suggest this to her friend. My husband also sugggested that nothing good ever comes from meddling. He thinks that talking to parents about their kids is a sure way to make enemies.
I asked my daughter what she would like me to do and she just shrugged. My husband and I have agreed that we will listen to what you have to say about this matter. Please respond as this is weighing heavily on all of us and I am worried about my daughter's friend who happens to be a lovely young woman. I have known her and her mother since the girls were in kindergarten together.
A torn and worried mom
Dear Torn and Worried Mom,
Your question is an excellent one and comes up very frequently as a confusing issue for many parents. On the one hand, you want to keep your daughter's confidence but on the other hand you do not want her to be carrying a burden like this that she is ill-equipped to deal with. While your husband makes a good point by suggesting that talking to parents about their kids is extremely sensitive—it is nonetheless necessary at times.
In this situation, your daughter's friend is engaging in a risky behavior and her mother should know so that she can get her the appropriate help. My rule in these types of situations is to ask yourself if you are coming from a place of good intention when talking to the mother. If the answer is yes then by all means talk to her and assure her that you have no intention to gossip about or judge her daughter but that in a similar situation you would want to know this information about your own child.
Keep in mind, that your daughter is probably confiding in you about this situation because she feels overwhelmed by it. Let her know that you are going to talk to the mother so that she doesn't feel left out of the loop and lose trust in you. Remind her that safety always comes first. My guess is that your daughter will feel relieved. Take the opportunity to ask your own daughter if she has ever thought about engaging in this type of behavior. Sometimes they test your reaction to information by describing it as a friend's behavior. We did that when we were teens as well.
Good luck and I hope that there is a healthy and positive outcome for everyone.