Dear Readers,

Today’s Ask Carolyn deals with two epidemics: Negativity and cutting among teens. I look forward, as always, to your letters and comments.



Dear Carolyn,

My son-in-law flits around from job to job. He complains about every employer. The problem is that his attitude impacts his ability to support my grandchildren. He is a negative person. My daughter works and provides. She keeps a steady job and has been with her employer at least nine years. She is positive, but I quite frankly don’t know how she stands him. I’d like to give my daughter information on how to handle his negativity. What do you say, Carolyn?


Carolyn Answers …

Giving advice to someone who is not seeking change probably doesn’t work. But here goes regarding healing negative thinking, which can be both a problem in families and a workplace problem.

I define negative thinking as a pattern of negative thoughts about yourself your surroundings or others around you. I find that employees who are unhappy with one work place go on to be unhappy with the new work place. The same can be true of relationships, and one must look within to see if that is where the real problem is. Given your fact pattern, I would suspect that your son-in-law will find no employer he likes.

The first thing I would suggest to your daughter is to find some new couple friends. Look for some folks who think positive thoughts about life, their jobs and their families. Leave the complainers and naysayers to someone else. In these social settings, your son-in-law needs to be in the minority, so some of the good thoughts rub off. It is hard to stay positive when everyone around you is negative. Sometimes even small positive thoughts can blossom if watered properly.

The next thing I would offer is that you and your daughter should make sure you are positive influences. Here are some of the golden rules for turning the negative person into the positive sunlight.

Smile. This smile changes the attitude of the room.

Turn a negative tone into a positive tone. Refuse to respond in kind when negativity is offered.

Surround yourself with positive people.

Do not play the victim. Take responsibility for your life. Who is responsible for your life if it is not you?

Read positive quotes. While this may seem cliche, these quotes remain memorable for a purpose. “Every moment is a fresh beginning,” wrote T.S. Eliot.

Oprah Winfrey once said: “I know for sure that what we dwell on is who we become.” So constant dwelling on the negative is damaging. Stop your mind and rid it of negative thoughts. Focus on the positive.



Dear Carolyn,

I am a father, divorced from my teen daughter’s mother. I am very worried about my daughter, age 13. I have uncovered that she is “cutting” her arms. She hides it well with long sleeve shirts, but the truth is she is cutting. I only have her every other weekend. She is beautiful, but why is she making these marks? It appears she makes these cuts with steak knives from the kitchen. She denies that these are anything but cat scratches from the cats at her mother’s house. What should I do?


Carolyn Answers …

Your daughter needs some professional help with an adolescent psychologist. Let us make that plain and simple. Cutting is becoming epidemic among teens, so you are not alone with this problem. It is unclear to me why cutting is so rampant, but I suspect it may be linked to family instability and the divorce age we all live in.

What is cutting? It is a cry for emotional help and a sign of emotional distress. It is not a suicide attempt. Cutting appears more common in girls between the ages of 12 and 15, although cutting is now being seen in other ages, particularly college-aged “kids.” Frequently, persons who cut also have an eating disorder.

Interestingly, cutting is not thought to be looking for attention – as most cutters hide the cuts – insanity or suicidal ideation. The impetus to cut is generally thought to relate to some form of abuse, such as sexual, physical or verbal abuse. Whatever cutting is it is an unhealthy way to cope with emotional distress.

Counseling on cutting is for a psychologist. But some of the things you may encounter with the psychologist as recommendations along these lines: Lots of exercise, the recognition of the triggers for the cutting and coping skills to avoid cutting.

One final thought, cutting has become an accepted part of Goth culture in some circles; it’s almost ritualistic. I would provide this as an alternate, yet unlikely, explanation in your situation. Make sure you know who your daughter’s friends are. Goth subculture tends to the darker side of things.

Send questions on family law and divorce to, or P.O. Box 9023, Greensboro 27427 or at Ask Carolyn’s comment section at

Note that answers are intended to provide general legal information and are not specific legal advice for your situation. The column also uses hypothetical questions. A subtle fact in your unique case may determine the legal advice you need. Also, please note that you are not creating an attorney-client relationship with Carolyn J. Woodruff by writing or having your question answered by Ask Carolyn.