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Annie's Mailbox

Ask Amy column

Q. I have a niece who is 18. She and I are “friends” on Facebook.

The other day on my news feed, a video she posted of a pornographic nature (nudity and sexual activity involving a male stripper) popped up.

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This is not the first time she has posted such things, but it is the worst. Another time she had a conversation with a male friend about “having his baby.”

I am concerned for this girl, but not sure how to approach her. We live far away from each other. Her mother, who I was very close to, died recently. I am not as close to her father.

Do you have any suggestions? I do not want to be “unfriended.”

A. For now, you should not comment on these posts. You might gain some insight, however, by reading through the comments made by others. Other Facebook “friends” and contemporaries may comment, “Wow — that’s a little raw, don’t you think?” or question her taste or judgment.

Facebook comments can sometimes lead a person to self-correct. I do not think it’s wise for you to comment publicly: “I find this highly offensive. Love you, Auntie” because, given your niece’s age and immaturity, she will likely be done with you quite quickly, and you want to keep the door open.

If these posts worry (in addition to offend) you, you could send her a private message on Facebook to say, “Hi, I’m checking in. How are you doing lately?” Keep your own contact benign and open-ended.

You want to learn what she’s thinking about — not just what she’s posting — and develop enough intimacy with her that you can eventually ask her to reflect on how she’s presenting herself online.

Q. I am in a quandary about whether I should mind my own business about a situation in our neighborhood.

A neighbor had a baby a year ago, announced with a banner on their front porch. We did not even know she was pregnant. They keep to themselves. That baby has never been seen by any of the neighbors, not even their next-door neighbor.

They never bring her outside, and no one has seen the child (or the parents) in their yard. Other neighbors have had babies in the last three years, and they all play outside with one another.

We have seen them take the baby out in the car maybe three or four times.

Attempts by various neighbors to be friendly are quietly rebuffed at the door. I’m wondering whether to make a call to Children’s Protective Services to request a welfare check on the child. Staying indoors 24/7 can’t be healthy for a baby.

A. This child could have health (or other) problems causing the parents to keep the baby inside; you simply don’t know. You also don’t know what this family’s lifestyle or work schedule is.

Over the years, many people have contacted me to say they grew up in terrible circumstances in a neighborhood where “not one person intervened.” While I do not suggest being a busybody or necessarily judging choices parents make, our child welfare system is set up to be the advocate for children who cannot advocate for themselves.

If you are truly worried about this baby’s health, safety, and welfare, and if you have tried other ways and cannot determine whether the child is OK, then you should make the call.

Send questions via e-mail to askamy@tribune.com or by mail to Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

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