Q. My 14-year-old seems to act like a shrink for all her friends. While I appreciate her compassion and apparent leadership, I'm worried that she's too burdened. What can I do?
A. Charge for her services and put the proceeds into her college fund? Okay, seriously, your concern is well-placed. Your daughter's peers could be struggling with big problems, and it's inappropriate for her to carry the responsibility alone. Explain that you're proud that others rely on her advice and comfort, but she may need to seek some outside assistance. Begin by asking for a general description of the kids' difficulties (be clear that you're not asking for names). Then explain that if she's hearing about any major issues—bullying, depression, eating disorders, abuse of alcohol or drugs, any kind of family violence, for example— she must inform an adult ally. That can be you or another grown-up you both trust. She should also plan what she's going to say to the other teen, as in, "Hey, Jen, I think this is too big for us to deal with by ourselves, and I'm feeling we should take it to an adult. Who do you think is the best person? And if you want, I'll go with you." Remember, your goal is to help your daughter create boundaries so she can protect her own emotional health, now and in the future.
Originally published in the August 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.