Dear Amy: Can you resolve a family debate? Whenever my niece or nephew (my brother's kids) do something great (get into a top college, win a scholarship, look beautiful in a picture) my dad and my sisters and I all say something like, "You got that from our side of the family."

We say this to show them how proud we are of them.

I have heard (third-hand) that my niece thinks that we are jerks because her mom "makes more money and is more educated than all four of her aunts put together."

Is what we have been saying wrong? Doesn't she owe us all an apology?

My brother is the only one of us with children, so we like to see some of ourselves in his kids. What is wrong with that?

Amy says: Not having children shouldn't make you so dense regarding what is wrong with what you are doing, which is to basically claim another person's success as (partly) your own.

Many of us make comments like: "You get your smarts (or looks, or spunk) from MY side of the family," but these comments should always be delivered with a clear understanding that you are joshing.

When you and your family members always respond this way to your niece and nephew, this is what they hear: "You wouldn't have achieved this without the wonderful qualities you've inherited from me."

When you break off a part of someone else's achievement and claim it for yourself, you not only diminish the individual's hard work, but you also deny that person's DNA from the other side of their family. So basically it's a twofer of an insult.

If you are perpetually doing this to these younger family members, I can see why your niece snapped.

So no, she does not owe you an apology for basically delivering an accurate assessment of your behavior.

You and other family members can now demonstrate how awesome you are by changing your own behavior and apologizing to her.

Testing relationships

Dear Amy: Two of my friends, "Christine" and "Eric," have been dating since our senior year of high school; we are now college freshmen.

In the past two months, Christine has become extremely close to another mutual friend, "Michael." The attraction is obvious to everyone. Michael and Christine physically touch often and spend a lot of time alone together. Their behavior doesn't change when Eric is present.

In my interactions with Eric and Christine, they have never seemed emotionally intimate. Christine is very controlling and manipulative toward Eric.

Eric knows about Christine and Michael, but does not seem willing to confront them. I don't know if Christine and Michael's relationship makes Eric uncomfortable, but it makes the rest of our friend group uncomfortable.

Eric is a meek person while Michael and Christine both have dominant personalities. What, if anything, should I do to make sure that Eric is not hurt or being used?

Amy says: This type of nebulous relationship behavior is never fun to witness, but it is not unusual for a big transition like the first year of college where students often push relationship boundaries.

Unfortunately, this is not your relationship, and there is not a lot that you can do to make your friend grow up and engage in a more mature relationship.

All you can really do is to be present for your friend. Knowing that someone is there for him when he's being overshadowed may give him the courage to stand up for himself.

If you start to suspect that he is being physically or emotionally abused, assure him that you are in his corner, and suggest that he make an appointment with a counselor.

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