Unnecessary Guilt

Q: My 13-year-old daughter is generally well adjusted in school. She does well academically, has a good number of friends, and is usually a happy person. In recent weeks, however, she has been very on edge, questioning herself, and finds it hard to calm herself down.

She has befriended a girl who is very needy (let’s call her Suri), who can keep her on the phone for hours, and this really stops her from reaching out to other friends. My daughter helps Suri with her homework and feels it would be unkind to cut short their phone conversations. She feels sorry for her, as Suri has no other friends in school. Suri follows her around in class, and my daughter can’t ask her to stop following her, either. My daughter feels uncomfortable trying to limit the relationship in any way, as in the past Suri always became hysterical when she tried to do this.

How can I help my daughter deal with this relationship?

A: It is difficult to know what triggered your daughter’s anxiety, as there can be multiple causes for this condition. Befriending a problematic girl could have been an outgrowth of pre-existing anxiety. If someone feels uncomfortable in her own skin, a way to feel worthwhile is to be moser nefesh helping someone in an overly magnanimous manner.

Whatever the cause, your daughter has to see that a relationship without clear boundaries is doomed to failure. This is especially true when the relationship is not mutual and is built on one party feeling sorry for the other. The eventual outcome will be that the needy party will be disappointed in your daughter’s not having an exclusive relationship with her.

As Suri seems to have severe emotional needs, you have to convince your daughter that she cannot be the answer to her friend’s problems. Hashem will find other people to help her. She is 13 years old, and needs to help herself first! If your daughter is now less socially available to others, that’s already a limitation that she is experiencing unnecessarily.

To assuage your daughter’s guilt, tell her that Suri’s parents (or the school) can try and get her tutors. You can tell her that Suri is not learning how to socially interact with her peers, as she is spending hours at a time on the phone with her. Your daughter is attempting to put a band-aid on a situation that needs more complicated intervention.

She can tell Suri at the beginning of their next phone chat that her mother (you!) feels that she has been going to bed too late in recent weeks, and is curtailing the amount of time she can spend on the phone. If Suri complains and makes her feel guilty, she can again “blame it on her parents” and attempt to change the subject.

As your daughter has allowed this relationship to continue at a high level of intensity, a “cold turkey” approach will most likely not be effective, especially taking into account your daughter’s level of guilt and misplaced human responsibility. Your daughter has to create a “concrete wall” of practiced verbal response to use on Suri when she becomes very emotional. Doing so will help avoid an emotional response and escalating argument. The words can be “I’m sorry that I can’t do more at this point,” or, “This is what my parents want. I really can’t do any more right now.” If your daughter practices saying these words in her mind, it will make the process more workable.