Teenage Niece & Her Risky Behavior

Dear Dr. Bill — I am facing a dilemma over my 17-year-old niece.  She recently confided to me about drinking with her friends.  She didn’t get drunk, only a little “buzzed.”  However, she’s not remorseful at all and continues to hang around with the same crowd.

I’m debating whether or not I should tell my sister about it.  I don’t want to break the trust my niece has placed in me — because I may have the opportunity to guide her and be a positive influence her life.  But at the same time, I don’t want to keep secrets from her mom.  What should I do?


Dear Melissa,

I understand your dilemma.  You want to maintain trust with your niece, but at same time, you feel it’s important for her parents to be aware that she has been involved in risky behavior.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this situation is that your niece has expressed no remorse over her drinking and continues to socialize with the same friends.  You’re right to assume that things will only get worse, not better.

Here’s what I’d suggest.  Talk to your niece and reaffirm your love for her.  Tell her that you want the best for her in life, and that you are very concerned about the crowd she is hanging out with.  Let her know that if she continues to socialize with this group, you fear for her future.

Ask her if she has told her parents about the drinking incident.  Tell her you believe it’s vital that she let them know what happened, and that she needs to promise them that it won’t happen again. Let her know that if she doesn’t tell them, you will—not to “rat” on her, but because you love both her and her parents.

Chances are she won’t like this ultimatum, but stick to your guns.  Give her a firm deadline to confess the drinking to her parents—within the next two weeks.  Then follow up with your sister to make sure she has followed through.

Thanks for writing, Melissa.  If you have a question for me about family issues or Christian living, click the “Questions” link on the Family Expert page.

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