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My Teen Is Spiraling Into Hypochondria. Meanwhile, I’m Actually Sick.

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Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Do you have any questions about care and feeding? Send it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My son will soon be 18 and I know he is looking forward to adulthood, but he has become increasingly dependent and is spiraling into hypochondria. something I am “wrong” about him. He is rapidly going through self-diagnoses, from chronic fatigue syndrome and anemia to physically affecting epileptic “seizures” (which were ruled out by three different doctors), and now it’s lymphoma. I have reached out to his physical and mental health care team for advice, but haven’t gotten much of a response. I am trying to be patient and reassuring, but I am at the point of losing my cool. My days are constantly interrupted by his pretense; one minute, he is in agony, the next, he is full of life. To make matters worse, I am currently working through a terrifying diagnosis of my own. It is neurodegenerative, and my physical symptoms make me shake and lose my balance. I have not shared much about this with my children, and I am trying to be brave, but watching my very healthy teenager pretend to have seizures and be sick is not only painful, it is pissing me off. My partner is trying to ignore it, but I am beside myself.

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—Actually sick

Dear Really Sick,

If you’re not getting the kind of cooperation you need from your child’s care team, it may be time to make some replacements. It sounds like he could benefit from a solid therapist, one who communicates effectively with you. You don’t know for sure whether his hypochondria is a real condition or something he’s just acting out because he’s nervous about becoming an adult, so be careful not to take out your frustrations on him. Patiently remind him that his doctor has examined him thoroughly and that he’s not sick.

Your child is old enough to know his own diagnosis; perhaps hearing what he’s going through will help him stop acting like he’s seriously ill. Explain what’s going on (warning him not to share this information with his siblings) and point out how different his condition is from your own “sick one minute, fine the next” behavior. Focus on finding a mental health professional who can properly address his issues; you need to know if he’s really faking it or if he has reason to believe he’s not well. Ask your child to be sensitive to what’s going on and to believe doctors when they tell him he’s fine.

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Send your questions to Care and Feeding hereIt’s anonymous! (Questions may be edited for publication.)

Dear Care and Feeding,

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I am an African woman who has a child with a Turkish man. We live together, although he initially denied impregnating me and did not acknowledge our child until he took a paternity test when he was 3 years old. My child’s father has a 19-year-old son from a previous marriage. He does not want to introduce him to our child and when I ask him why, he remains silent. I am thinking of moving out and starting my own life with our child, and I have the financial ability to do so. Am I overreacting?

-Fed up

Dear Fed Up,

I think the answer to your question lies in how he treats you in general. Based on the things you’ve shared, I suspect he may not be very good. It was cruel of him to deny your pregnancy; even if he had compelling reasons to believe someone else could have also been the father of your child, he knew he had had sex with you, which guaranteed there was a chance your child was his. Three years is a long time to not acknowledge your child. As for not introducing your child to his child, there are is The possibility that his son isn’t a great guy. But if they seem to have a decent relationship, then there’s probably a more nefarious reason for him keeping the boys apart. I hate to say this, but I think it would be unwise to dismiss the possibility that he’s ashamed of having a black son — there’s a long history of non-black people desiring black bodies but not respecting them enough to try to have a healthy relationship with them. Who is this man when it comes to you? If he treats you with love and respect, maybe you can look past these things. But if he makes you feel like you’re inferior or doesn’t otherwise demonstrate that he thinks highly of you, then I think it’s time for you to move on. If that’s the case, be prepared for him to be a half-hearted co-parent, and don’t be afraid to use the courts to force him to give you the support you deserve.

Catch up on care and feeding

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter (who is a teenager) is starting to eat less and less. A couple of weeks ago she was eating three full meals a day, plus a couple of snacks. Now, she eats a couple of apple slices for breakfast and says she isn’t hungry enough to eat more than a small portion of her dinner. At school, she supposedly gets school lunches, but for the past week, I haven’t gotten any notifications telling me she’s gotten anything (her school uses an app system that alerts parents if their child(ren) get anything). She rarely eats snacks.

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I’m worried about her. I checked her YouTube channel last night (she’s half-aware of me checking her phone). Her viewing history is filled with “diet advice” and “weight loss goals.” For reference, she’s at a healthy weight, but she looks a little chubby due to being so short for her age (although I’ve never said anything to her about this). I’m not sure how to approach a conversation with her about this without making her defensive; all I want to do is help her.

—There is no need to lose weight, she is a teenager

Dear, weight loss is not necessary,

You should gently talk to your daughter about changes in her eating habits and the things you’ve found in her search terms. Ask her why she thinks she needs to lose weight – has anyone told her anything or is she just comparing herself to other girls? Let her know that it’s okay to want to be healthy, but she doesn’t need to skip meals or count calories. Encourage her to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly rather than depriving herself of everything. Talk to her about eating disorders and how dangerous it is for young people to severely restrict themselves when they’re still growing and need substantial amounts of food each day. Involve her in meal planning and help her identify tasty foods that will fuel her body without excess salt or sugar. Affirm her body and make sure she’s exposed to media and books that feature characters of different body types. Make sure you don’t say negative things in front of her about your own body – or anyone else’s, for that matter. Intuitive Eating Guide for Teens Presents body-positive tips for having a healthy relationship with food. If you can’t adjust to eating well instead of just No eating, you should consider taking her to a therapist who treats young people with eating disorders – I’m not saying she has one, but you don’t want to wait until she has one to take action.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I am the father of a 16-year-old daughter, “Bianca.” We have always gotten along well, but lately it seems like she wants to spend less and less time with me, and I am worried about her. Her mother (my wife) died a few months ago, and that has affected Bianca deeply. Since her mother died, Bianca has become increasingly withdrawn. She doesn’t want to talk to me, she doesn’t want to sit with me at meals, she doesn’t want to spend time with me at all, ever. If I ask her why, she says it’s because “I make things worse for her” (or something like that), but she doesn’t clarify what that means, so I am left confused. Every attempt to talk or spend time with her ends with her yelling at me for no apparent reason. I know she is upset about her mother (I am too), and I have bought her a book on grief, but I don’t know what else I can do.

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—She won’t even look at me.

Dear Ella won’t do it,

Your daughter could use some psychological help. She is dealing with one of the most devastating things that can happen to a person, and at a very young age. It is clear that she does not feel that she can express her feelings to you and that may be because she does not fully understand them herself. Ideally, you would find a professional who will meet with Bianca individually, as well as with you. It would also be wise to seek help for yourself; you have suffered a great loss and at the same time you are expected to help a child cope with it, it is an incredibly difficult job. It is good that you have bought Bianca a book on grief, but you should also read up on how teenagers deal with death. A guide for parents dealing with grief for a child It will help you better understand what your daughter is going through and also offer advice on how to handle it. Try to keep your wife’s memory alive in your daughter’s life. Talk to her about her mother, make sure there are pictures of her around the house. It may be difficult now, but over time she will benefit from having her close to her heart.

—Jamilah





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