Dear Savvy Auntie,

My niece is almost 20-years-old, and we are very close. I love her to death and spend lots of one-on-one time with her.

Recently, she's seemed a little depressed. She's smart, funny, sweet, adventurous, and very pretty, and she has several boys after her (though none of whom she is interested in), but because she is not the typical college kid– she's not a huge partier and has never had a relationship with a boy (she's waiting to find one she really likes) –a few of her friends have been calling her a dork, a loser, and weird.

She knows that a lot of this is in jest, but it still hurts her, and it's getting to the point where she's starting to believe what her friends are saying. I make it a point to tell her every time I see her that she's not a dork, she's not a loser, and being weird is good – everyone is weird. And I know it means a lot to her, but I don't know if my telling her she's a good kid is enough.

It's so hard to see her self-esteem drooping. Is there anything else I can do to make her feel better?


Dear Auntie-Bullying,

How special to have such a close relationship with your almost 20-year-old niece! This is an age that is transitional between adolescence and adulthood and can be difficult. Also, what peers say carries a great deal of weight and what family says is readily dismissed. Have you broached the topic of psychotherapy or counseling? It is often easier for a young person to open up to a professional rather than to someone close to them.

I am sure you are, and have been, doing deeply caring things as she is not turning away from you. However, saying things like ”you are not a dork” needs to be re-framed in the positive. Remember the old adage: “don’t think pink elephant!” Everyone immediately pictures a pink elephant. I am - even as I write this!

My last suggestion is to try to get her interested in a physical activity. This could be a sport, dance/yoga, karate, horseback riding, ice skating etc. There may be a chemical basis for her slump and exercise and a new interest will “pep” her up.

Best of Luck,
Natalie Robinson Garfield

Originally published: August 2, 2011
Republished: September 19, 2017

Homepage photo: darrenmbaker

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