Louisa Saunders

Louisa Saunders is associate features editor of The Independent and writes a weekly advice column, The Help Desk, for the Independent on Sunday’s New Review magazine

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The help desk: 'My 14-year-old daughter is cutting herself'

Q. I've discovered that my 14-year-old daughter has been cutting herself. She'd hidden it from me and I found out only when her head of year contacted me. She has tiny cuts on her forearms, some of which look quite old. When I asked her about it, she said she didn't know why she did it and that she doesn't want to talk about it but doesn't think she'll do it again.

The help desk: 'I'm a single mother in my forties and I dread any social event'

Q. I'm a single mother in my forties and I think I've begun to develop some kind of social phobia. People think of me as quite a confident person. I'm fine dealing with people in my work and at the school gate (I have two sons aged 11 and 14), but I dread any social event.

The help desk: 'My boyfriend isn't ready for a baby - but time is running out for us'

Q. I love my boyfriend more than anyone I've ever met. Six years ago, I fell deeply in love with him, but he was a classic commitment-phobe. Things were quite stormy, but now he has finally committed to me and that makes me very happy. But I'm desperate to have a baby – I'm 39 and he's 45 – and he won't give me one. He always says he isn't ready – but time is running out for us and I really can't imagine how I will face the future if I don't get to do this.

The help desk: My mother blatantly favours my younger brother - what can I do?

Q. My mother has always blatantly favoured my younger brother. He's good-looking and charming but immature. As a teenager, he was often in trouble and didn't get on well at school. I was closer to her, but she treated him like royalty. He wanted to be an actor but that didn't work out and he has mostly lived on hand-outs from her as far as I can see.

The help desk: My daughter is being bullied at school - what can I do?

Q. For the past few years my 10-year-old daughter has suffered bullying at school. It mainly takes the form of exclusion and constant undermining. The bullies are ostensibly her friendship group, but they constantly mock and undermine her with cruelty that is sometimes astounding. I have had endless meetings with her teachers and the head. They are sympathetic and talk the talk, but will never do the one thing that would surely help: talk to the parents of the bullies.

The help desk: 'Guilt and feelings of failure stop me living my life'

Q. My life has become very busy, with a full-time job, two children, an increasingly frail mother and one child going through exams. My mother needs frequent visits and I also help deal with all the admin and paperwork that she can no longer manage. I appreciate that, unlike some, I do have a husband to share the load and have no major money problems, and I'm very much aware there are others with a lot more on their plates and much greater difficulties to deal with.

The help desk: My children are addicted to computers - should I restrict their time online?

Q. I have a son aged 12 and a daughter of 14. I'm devoted to both of them but I'm becoming extremely frustrated by their addiction to computers. My 14-year-old daughter in particular seems almost obsessed and this is a cause of quite a lot of conflict in our house. I restrict her time on the internet (including iPhones) to an hour a day (half-an-hour for my son), but they're resentful and always trying to get around it, and it's getting more and more difficult to police.

The help desk: My best friend isn't in love with her fiancé - how can I persuade her not to rush into marriage?

Q. My best friend has told me she’s getting married. I didn’t really know what to say, because she’s told me herself that she’s not “in love” with the man she’s marrying, whom she originally met at university and whom she’s been seeing for less than a year. He’s nice and I can see he adores her, but he’s just not very interesting and definitely not her equal intellectually.

The help desk: How can I deal with a widower's unwanted advances?

Q. A few weeks ago, a neighbour of mine died of cancer. We've all rallied round to support her husband – they'd been married for 24 years and it's a terrible shock for him.

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