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Health Advice

Agony aunt

How do you get your 17-year-old son into books? Should you let your daughters use Facebook and what to do if you suspect your child is a bully? First Eleven’s Agony Aunt Victoria Lambert rounds up the experts to answer your questions

My 16-year-old daughter is at a London girls’ day school. Am I being ridiculously over-protective meeting her after school? I can feel she is less keen to see me there each day and I don’t want to be an “embarrassing mum”. Annie, south London

Isabel Douglas-Hamilton says: Your feelings are natural and understandable. However, feeling independent and capable is vital when you’re growing up. Have a chat with your daughter: you could suggest meeting her every other day. This would make you seem and feel less dependent, and let her start thinking for herself. Becoming street wise is absolutely essential in the Big Smoke!

A friend’s 14-year-old daughter seemed to lose weight suddenly over the summer. All the past term, I have noticed her seeming to shrink. My own child has mentioned it too. We know she is eating, as she often has a Friday night supper with us, and her appetite is unchanged (although she is quite picky). Yet, her clothes are clearly baggier. If there is a problem, how can we help? Jenny, Edinburgh

Alex Corkran says: There are two concerns here: how to handle information about someone else’s child and how to care for your daughter, who has brought the news to you. With regards to her friend, I would recommend you do talk to the parents concerned. It is not your role to investigate the problem but depending on your own relationship with them, you could offer a shoulder to lean on and perhaps help them find out information, which would be useful. The charity Beat (beating eating disorders)


Claudia Miller is a 17 year-old in her second year studying four A levels at Bedales School in Hampshire.

I have a suspicion that my son is a bully. This is an awful admission to make, but when I attend parent events, I notice that he has lots of casual friends, but I see many younger boys actively shrink away from his group. At the end of last term I found a few things in his trunk which I didn’t recognise: an iPod, a designer jumper and a newish wallet, which didn’t have any money in it. His father and I split up a year ago in a


Max Pemberton is a doctor working in the NHS and is a columnist for The Daily Telegraph. His latest book, The Doctor Will See You Now is published by Hodder.

has a useful website,, including a Youthline: 0845 634 7650 which your daughter could call too. But just as it is not your place to solve this

problem, neither is it your little girl’s. She may be feeling desperate to help, as good friends do, but I always tell children that anorexia is no different to a broken leg. You have to get the experts in to fix the problem. So tell her that she was right to bring her worries to you, and that the adults are now working to solve the problem.

nasty divorce, and we sent him away to school specifically to keep him away from our mess. After a year, I don’t recognise him. He is grumpy, selfish and demanding. How can I fix this without involving the school? I would hate him to be expelled, but I am worried he is upsetting other children, so I feel for them too. Eleanor, Bristol

Victoria says: Can I first say how impressed I am at your own self-awareness – few mothers could own up to such a possibility. You’re probably correct, sadly, to link the changes in your son to home life. On a positive note, this allows you to talk to

your son, so that he can feel he can talk about how your family is changing, and how he feels about relationships, especially friendships when he is away from home. Family therapy would certainly be a good idea (try Relate, www.relate. or ask your GP for a local counsellor) and that might start to ease off the worries. Please do involve the school. What seems so

shocking to you may well be old news to them. And as for those unrecognisable

possessions (the iPod etc); are you sure they didn’t come home with your son by accident? Many boys find packing at the end of term genuinely chaotic. Just gather them up and say firmly that he has brought these back in error and you’ll hand them in to lost property when new term starts. Don’t make a big deal of it. Lastly, do include his father in this: you both

agreed to keep him away from your troubles. That doesn’t end with sending him away to school – it means protecting him from the fallout of your divorce for life. Good luck.

Our son James was slow to read and has no real interest in literature. He is strictly into sports and science but we were


Dennis Hayes is Professor of Education at the University of Derby. His book, The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education is out now.

62 FirstEleven Autumn 2011


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