Being a better sister to a cute, smart adolescent girl
June 11, 2010 9:36 AM   Subscribe

How to be a good older sister to a teenage girl? What can I say or do to make her experience of young love / adolescence / school more positive, and slightly less traumatic? Books, movies, toys, websites, quotations? Any recommendations welcome.

My little sister has reached the age of 14 and has her first boyfriend. She tends towards the more sensitive side of the spectrum. I feel that I was once a source of comfort for her, but now that she has reached this age I am floundering a little when she opens up to me about her worries and concerns. I feel distant and unsure how to relate (I am in my late twenties). Try as I might to put myself back in my 14-year-old shoes, I can’t remember the state of mind I was in or what I wanted or needed to hear.

So far, I just try not to give advice. I just listen to her and try to make her laugh. Perhaps that is all I need to do. :)

But if anybody else has an early teen sister who they relate to well, I’d like to hear what sorts of things you say or do to be a source of comfort or inspiration. I am the eldest so I didn’t have anybody to look up to. I’d like to be a good sister!

Also, any ideas of what books to recommend for (very curious and intelligent!) 14-year-old girls that might deal with these themes? It is fairly typical “Why-doesn’t-he-like-me-as-much-as-i-like-him”, “I’m-so-stressed-i-cant-eat” stuff. I’m not sure how much to worry, or how much to not worry.

I’d like to help instil a sense of humour about this stuff if possible. As I said she is very very sensitive and prone to taking things very seriously.

*Books in general for teenage girls are welcome too! They don't have to deal with these themes. She likes cutesy japanesy technological and artsy stuff.

Apologies if this question comes across as too overly concerned. Feel free to tell me to relax and stop trying to “be” anything in particular towards my sister!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (10 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you're a great big sister already--listening and making her laugh are the most important things, I think. The times when I adored my older sister were the ones when she took me seriously and didn't talk to me like I was an idiot, and the times when I couldn't stand her were when she piled on the unsolicited advice. YMMV.

My 15-year-old niece is coming over today to watch the DVDs of My So-Called Life, so while I don't have definitive proof that The Kids Today can relate, I'm pretty confident that the show has aged pretty well.

Had I had the books of Francesca Lia Block at my disposal as a teen girl, I would have been very happy indeed. Start with the Weetzie Bat books.
posted by corey flood at 9:56 AM on June 11, 2010

Oh, wow. You sound just like my sister and me, and I'm trying to figure this out myself. I'm 27-trying-to-relate-to-15. It sounds like you're doing pretty well, though.

The best thing I've found so far is to listen as much as possible, even when [especially when?] I don't want to, or when I'm busy. Our parents usually have so much other stuff going on that they may unintentionally cut her off or get distracted before the best part of her story. I try and keep her friends and their drama all straight, and tell her stories from when I was her age about my friends and their drama. It's funny, but she seems kind of amazed that what she's going through is the pretty much same thing that I went through.

My sister spends a lot of time reading / submitting / commenting on Deviant Art, that helps with her artsy. And every once in a while I'll buy her a couple of books from her favorite manga series or some new drawing pencils just to make her smile. I let her raid my closet when she 'doesn't have anything to wear' [luckily we're close enough in size that she can usually get away with it] and my nail polish collection, and try to do stuff with her that I would have enjoyed had I had my own older sister.
posted by alynnk at 10:01 AM on June 11, 2010

I say treat her like a grown-up! Pretend you're talking to any old friend.
posted by hubble at 10:07 AM on June 11, 2010

Great books that deal with girl self-actualization, loneliness and loss, being overwhelmed by adult world forces and coming into personal power are Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson and the Golden Compass series by Philip Pullman (the books are way better than the movie). Neither book is about romance, more about coming of age and sorting out how to act on your own behalf. And of course it's fun escapist sci-fi/fantasy.
posted by ovvl at 10:09 AM on June 11, 2010

girls traditionally get talking and reading as coping mechanisms -- i totally did. but i sure as hell wish someone had ALSO introduced me to rugby or boxing a lot sooner in life. take a teenage girl, throw them on a rugby pitch, and all of a sudden that lonely and uncertain lanky gal is a fucking badass force to be reckoned with.

maybe the two of you could check out a local women's game, or go to a boxing class together?
posted by crawfo at 10:21 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would say the best thing you can provide for her is let her feel heard and validated. So say things to her like "So you're feeling a little confused about how he feels?" or "Yeah, that would hurt to hear that" or "Gosh, no wonder you're angry" or "Oh that's great! I'm all excited for you! You'll have to tell me all about it after!" This will help her see you as someone she can turn to, as someone she matters to.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 10:47 AM on June 11, 2010

Music will get you through anything. I'm a boy so it's a little different, but a broken heart is part of the human condition that anyone, and most everyone, can understand and relate to.

I would throw her a couple of angsty CDs- I'm just getting back into Joan Jett (the movie the runaways reminded me how much I used to love her. I'd recommend some awesome riot girl bands to kick ass to- Joan jett, bikini kill, L7. Some other bands that speak directly to the human condition that got me through some hard love angst when I was younger:

get-up kids
bright eyes (every teen girl a couple of years ago was completely in love with connor oberst, so this should fit well for her)
Jawbreaker (especially "dear you")
posted by TheBones at 11:38 AM on June 11, 2010

At her age, I had a cousin who took me out places and who liked to do clothes & make-up with me. That made me feel special.

Compliment her to your parents or other people who you know will pass it along. It can be uncomfortable to receive direct compliments, but hearing a compliment about yourself secondhand is so flattering. None of the "you are only saying that because you're my sister."

Introduce her to adult friends of yours and tell her what they do for a living. This makes the authorities in her life much less intimidating.

When she goes through a breakup, tell her stories of your own heartbreaks and how you got over them.
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:55 AM on June 11, 2010

Scarleteen is an excellent excellent resource for stuff she might be too uncomfortable to talk about much with even you.

Just pay attention, listen, and follow her lead. Don't give a lot of advice, let her feel like a grownup that doesn't need to be lectured to. Love her.

You're probably already doing pretty well; 14 is hard even if your older sister is the Most Awesomest Bestest Sister Ever. She just has to work her way through.
posted by emjaybee at 1:27 PM on June 11, 2010

I am closer in age to my younger sister, but I remember feeling this way too. You're doing a great job just listening and being supportive - the fact she comes to you is a sign you are doing something right. Just keep your ears open, take her seriously even when she's being dramatic, and include her in your life however you can.

As far as practical suggestions - you could look up suggested activities and resources for Big Brothers Big Sisters, especially in your local area. You are actually sisters, but the age difference and the desire to be a mentor and friend to a much younger person makes the situation somewhat similar - here's one page of activity ideas.

The book my sister and I both for immensely interesting and valuable as teens was (ironically?) titled Girltalk: All the Stuff Your Sister Never Told You. It's approachable, funny, and covers topics from dating to body issues to eating disorders to school, pretty much everything I was curious about as a teen girl. It's good reading for both of you, but she might like having her own copy to look through privately too.

Good luck - it's a good thing you are doing. My sister is one of my favorite people in the world and I'm thankful for our strong friendship, you will be too :)
posted by nelleish at 4:27 AM on June 12, 2010

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