My Little Brother is directionless after dropping out of college. He spends every day sleeping until 2, waking to smoke up, and then watching TV. I'm worried that weeks of complacency will lead to months of inactivity and eventually years of a pattern of self-defeating behavior. But I don't know what else I can tell him.
posted by ChipT to Education (25 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've been a mentor in some form for half my life. When I graduated college, I was connected with an 11 year old boy in the area. He was smart and creative, but faced a lot of personal challenges because of his family situation. His father had been in and out of prison for his entire life. His mother had been (and at that time was about to seriously begin) struggling with addiction issues (as had his dad). Between the Section 8 housing, food stamps, and general lack of income, his home environment was often chaotic.
My background is pretty much the exact opposite. I grew up in the suburbs, my parents were both educators, and my sister and I went to private schools. We were hardly rich, but by comparison. . .never had the base advantages I had solely because of the circumstances of the family I was born into been so apparent. And while perhaps it was naive, I thought that it shouldn't ever be the case that a child who was intelligent and gifted in some ways should be destined for a life no better than his parents simply because he did not have some of the characteristics that other people can afford to take for granted. In my mind, a college education could be a key to help him avoid falling into a trap of struggle, poverty, and very possibly drug addiction. While there was no guarantee, I thought he surely stood a better chance.
Over 7 years, I worked with him to insert positive influences into his life. Where he once had a hobby of stealing bikes with his cousin, I introduced him to after-school sports. Where he used to view homework as completely optional and test performance based on random chance, I tried to teach him how consistency and preparation led to success. I supported him through his newly developed interest in acting. I helped him prepare for midterms and exams. Our work highlighted habits that most take for granted but that he lacked. He made progress and showed that he cared about his work and his future.
As a junior he began dating a girl who was a great influence on him. She was a strong student, heavily involved in the theater program and had a great family life. They broke up and he fell apart. His grades, which had been A's and B's fell to D's and F's. He started drinking and smoking up, and he generally became unpleasant and standoffish. He recovered a bit in the months to come, but the timing was awful. At the end of junior year and the beginning of senior year, he was not in a good place. He couldn't be bothered to put more effort into his college applications, he skipped his last opportunity to take the SATs, and he just barely avoided failing his final semester. He did make it into two local colleges and chose the one that did not require him to come in during the summer to pick up skills they thought he would need to succeed there.
He was excited to go because he didn't think he would get in anywhere, then nervous, then very anxious. He had never lived outside of his hometown (even though the college was literally an hour train ride away). We dropped him off, but because he had (through his own inactivity) failed to get all of the necessary medical forms completed, he had to come back for an appointment, missing his first day of class. It was clear that he was feeling a lot of anxiety about the change. He complained that he wasn't like any of the other students (this was his assertion after one day), and that he felt very lonely. He went back to school for the rest of the week, came home for the weekend, went back the following week, and then dropped out. Total days on campus: 5.
So it's been about a month and a half. He is a bit depressed. He has said all along that he wants to find a passion, but doesn't know what it is. He has nothing to do but watch TV and movies on his computer (the one his recently released father worked to get him for school). He stays up all night, sleeps most of the day, wakes up to smoke, and then meets his cousin (the one who he used to steal bikes with who now enjoys gang activity and working on his freestyles) when the cousin gets out of high school for the day.
He says he feels depressed at his situation and might return next semester or next year, but isn't happy about staying or going. He wants something better, even recognizes how his current habits contribute to his situation, but doesn't feel drawn to any particular option.
From his perspective, he says that he wasn't ready for college, that he didn't know why he was there because he didn't have a passion, and he didn't like the specific school (he was talking about transferring before he ever got there).
From my perspective, I think he left because he was homesick, not giving himself a chance to adjust (as most every college freshman needs to). I think he has to expose himself to something different in order to find a passion. And I think he didn't spend enough time at school to even know if it was the right thing for him.
But on the other I know that I am biased. We have different backgrounds. And despite all of my help, he may still be struggling with a lot of issues that were inherent to his situation growing up. In addition, college isn't for everyone: a point that I've reluctantly accepted. And finally, I'm too close to this. I've been wrapped up in his life for 7.5 years. Not only is it difficult to watch your efforts crumble (at least in the near term), but also I care about him and am worried that he has made a big mistake. It hurt me that he did what he did, but he does have to do what he thinks is right. My concern though is that he perhaps is at a higher risk for addiction because of his family situation. While college isn't always the answer, it is a plausible road out of the cycle of poverty that surrounds his family. If I were to have dropped out of college, there would have been a larger safety net and less perils surrounding that choice than might be there for him.
We still have a great relationship. He looks to me for advice, knows when I might scold him a bit, but listens to what I say even if he doesn't go with my opinion. I've skirted the line between friend, older brother, and father figure, which feels weird for someone turning 30 to be that for someone turning 20.
I've taken a hands off approach since September. Partially because I'm still a little hurt. Partially because I think I set up too much expectation for him. And partially because I don't know what else to do
All in all, there could be no problem at all. Plenty of people take time off, drop out, or wander for years. It's really only with time that one can determine whether things work out.
So for the tl;dr version:
What help or advice can I offer someone who, because of age and family background, doesn't understand that his life can be more than what he's seen? How can I encourage him to break away from his pattern of behavior in hopes that he will at best discover a passion and at worst begin to establish a life for himself that enables him to avoid the struggles that his family faced when he was growing up?