Help me help my 11 year old brother grow up into an awesome person!
October 10, 2014 8:09 AM   Subscribe

What can I do as his sister to help my brother grow up to an awesome person that's hardworking, successful, happy and responsible (and morally good) person. Also one who's educated and has a good amount of fun, worldly experiences. Right now I'm very afraid of him growing up and being a bad person destined for because because of all of the current situations in his life including the way he's being parented.

Hi all, I'm a female college student in the NYC area. I'm 20 and I have a younger brother that's 11.

We live in a one bedroom apartment with our mom and my brother's dad (my stepdad). Our living situation sucks because my parents and brother are in our tiny living room, and none of them get much privacy.  I live in the one bedroom, which is smaller than the living room.  I am currently thinking of ways so we can move my brother's bed into my room so he can have his own room and a permanent desk to do homework on. I don't mind sharing the room with him any more since he's older and won't wreck it any more or drive me crazy. I'm also trying to figure out how to install a curtain or room divider so we have space to change our clothes. I'll also find room for him to put his stuff. I think this would be really good for him to be in the bedroom with me.

 My dad is separated from my mom and they have a friendly relationship.  My dad has a good relationship with my brother. As for me and brother, we used to fight a lot when we were younger.  We always got on each others nerves and I was always frustrated and kind of mean to him. We still do, but our relationship is much better as we've gotten older. I really really regret acting this way because I feel like I lost a very important opportunity to bond with him when we were little. I think that he might still think that I'm mean to him or don't like this. I really want to be an awesome, loving supportive sister and make up for this because I can't change what happened. I really love him so much. It's unconditional.  I make an effort now to hang out with him more, but it's tough because I have chronic fatigue/bipolar 2 disorder and I get tired really easily. Especially when I go out all day and come back home. I also go to college and live on campus so I don't see him much when I go to school. I'm trying to call him regularly to say hi and check how he's doing.

I was 8 when he was born. My stepdad never felt comfortable with me holding him, so I didn't get to hold him much. (My stepdad and I had a bad relationship for a very long time after I hit puberty, for some reason. He moved in with me and mom when I was 6 and my parents had been separated for four years. I didn't like him especially the way he treated/treats my mother and brother (mental and physical abuse) He has his own Issues about family and power dynamics.) My mom and stepdad have tried to separate a bunch of times but it never works out because neither of them can afford to live separately.  Also when my brother was five he moved away for a few months and my brother was devastated and was very upset. My stepdad and I are slowly having a better relationship but honestly I don't like him much because of our past and how he treats my mom (emotional abuse and being stupid).

My brother is very intelligent but a little lazy and unmotivated when it comes to school. He goes to a Catholic elementary school. He just started middle school and it seems like he's still getting used to it. The changes are having a bunch of different teachers and changing classes. He also walks home and goes to school with a friend. (We live 8 minutes from school.) He's not so great at math, reading and religion, but he passes in math and does okay in the rest of the subjects. It seems like he's interested in science.  I'm going to try and teach him more because I'm really interested in science too and know quite a lot. The education at his school is quite rigorous and challenging,  but good. Most of the teachers are good.

My mom thinks he might have ADHD because he has trouble focusing and is very hyper and doesn't sit still unless he's playing video games. My mom is thinking about finding a doctor for him to maybe diagnose something but it seems like she's hesitant.

He's really good at video games and loves playing them. He spends a good amount of his free time gaming (almost all of it). He wants to become a youtuber focused on video games. His favorites are Minecraft and violent first person shooters. I hope he doesn't become violent because of the FPSes and also become addicted to video games in a bad way. We like to play video games together, but not those because I don't understand or like them. I think he might want to be a veterinarian. He's also obsessed with basketball and sneakers like his dad is. It sucks because he wants to get $200 pair sneakers like his dad does. I don't think my bro really understands the value of a dollar and think money grows on trees. Which is bad for his future.

He has a lot of good friends at school and lately has a boy friend that hangs out on the weekend with.

I don't always agree with my parents parenting style. It's not my place to change it though and the best I can do is be a model of good behavior and not try to discipline him. Which includes setting bad examples by fighting, eating unhealthy, not doing chores and watching too much tv.They can be kind of culturally insensitive about other races (We're Puerto Rican and black)/gender sterotyping/ slight homophobia. My bro often uses the word retard and that's really bad. I try and tell him that's not nice but end up lecturing. Also they don't put many limits at all of letting him play video games and go on the internet.They do a good job teaching him how to be kind and do well in school among other things. My brother doesn't always listen to me or them, or anyone really. I don't think they taught him enough about respect and is always being disrespectful to those older then him. He really has a bad attitude and gets very nasty when he is told to do something he doesn't want to do, and huffs and puffs about it. He has to be told several times to do something, only doing it when yelled at and then does it sloppily and makes a big fuss. Also, mom and dad let him watch age inappropriate stuff like R rated movies, game of thrones with sex skipped over, play Grand Theft Auto and inappropriate/cursy/vulgar youtube videos and memes (like Shrek is love Shrek is life) which they may or may not know about. I don't think they monitor his Internet usage like they should when he's his age (11).

What can I do as his sister to help my brother grow up to an awesome person that's hardworking, successful, happy and responsible (and morally good) person. Also one who's educated and has a good amount of fun, worldly experiences. Right now I'm very afraid of him growing up and being a bad person destined for because because of all of the current situations in his life including the way he's being parented.

I don't want him to be an irresponsible person going nowhere in life playing video games all day with a dead end job living his parent's apartment and being morally devoid. I've been trying to be kind to him, show him cool things, teach him about stuff he should know (like being safe in relationships, not abusive and not being a sexist guy, surviving school and growing up, how the world works) without lecturing. I'm not sure if he really listens to me about this stuff. I also plan to travel internationally with him when I get a job and money. I realize he still is a kid, not an adult yet. I often forget that and wonder why his behavior is still so weird and erratic. I really really want him to have a great life and have an awesome sister supporting him. I feel like I can help him with this, although I understand there's only so much I can do. I want to have a great relationship with him too.

My bad for the long background, but I really wanted to be thorough.
posted by starlybri to Human Relations (14 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
It turns out that parents don't matter very much (I know this is counter-intuitive, but read the article). Your peers (friends) have a bigger influence on you than your family. I would suggest helping your brother to find good, decent friends that would be a good influence on him.
posted by alex1965 at 8:17 AM on October 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

You are an awesome sister! It made me tear up! Keep being awesome, I think your bro will pick up on your decisions and at least have some one to model off of.
posted by sandmanwv at 8:38 AM on October 10, 2014 [8 favorites]

The only thing I can think of is, if he gets an allowance or can earn money, helping him save up for big purchases like shoes or video games. If he understands saving, working, and more about the value of a dollar, that would go a long way towards adulthood.

You can also do the thing where even if he doesn't engage, you talk about your opinion in his hearing. That worked on me as a teenager-- my parents would talk about sexism on TV or something and I'd outwardly be like "whatever" but actually be listening and thinking about their words vs their actions. It sounds like you have a good relationship, so he is probably listening to you. Treat him like you value his opinion and respect his thoughts, and he'll be more likely to be flexible and thoughtful.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:57 AM on October 10, 2014 [4 favorites]

Show him the world. If you can't afford the world, expand his horizons as much as you can. Take him places, even if it's just a bus trip into the city to walk around and look at all the things and have lunch. You can use these trips as ways to help him learn about the true value of money by setting a budget & getting him to help plan what you do.

If you can afford it find exhibits he might be interested in or sporting events or conventions. Spend time doing things with him that he would like doing but push him out of his comfort zone ever so subtly. Let him see there is more to the world. If nothing else encourage him to take up extra curricular activities & drive him to them etc if needed if family won't.

You need to expose him to as wide a range of people & places as possible. It's harder to be racist, homophobic etc if you actually know and interact with people that are gay or a different race. Expand his world view, if nothing else you'll have some fun adventures with your brother, & sitting on a train or driving in a car just the 2 of you is a surprisingly effective serious conversation simulator. If one starts try not to lecture. Listen. Tell him the truth as best you can, keep secrets he shares with you as much as possible, do not laugh at things that might not seem a problem to you and if you are lucky he will slowly come to think of you as a confidant.
posted by wwax at 8:59 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

Man, the way you're looking out for your brother is really amazing! I wish I'd had that good an attitude to my siblings when I was 20 (I'm also the eldest).

I guess I'd echo that the important thing is to remain his friend, to keep setting a good example, and above all to let him know that you care what happens to him while respecting his choices, that you have his back and that you will always hear him out, trust him, and do what you can to help when help is needed. And that you love him, no matter what! I think all that is much more important than any lecture which, you're right, he is not likely to listen to very fully.

I got a ton of well-meaning lectures as a kid and I honestly don't think I remember any of them or found any of them useful. If you have advice, you should usually be able to tell it to him in a few sentences or less, especially if he's ADHD or similar. It doesn't even have to be a "Sit Down I'm Going to Give You My Advice" thing, you can just make it known what you think through your comments and reactions. He's smart, he'll pick up on it. I'd say that in general adding more words doesn't make people pay more attention to you, if anything it just makes them think that you think they're stupid. (Having said that, damn if I don't tend to ramble myself...!)

About maintaining the relationship, moving past the 'kid sister/brother' dynamic, and dealing with low energy. If he's a boy who likes videogames, he'll probably feel a good sense of companionship just from you hanging out while he plays. Even if you don't much like the kinds of games he plays, he'll probably really appreciate it if you praise the stuff he makes in Minecraft or his FPS skills. Maybe you could just sit with him while he plays and you study, read, browse the net, or whatever. This is quite likely to be basically what he does with his guy friends anyway, and it'd help him feel more at home in the small space of your apartment.

About expectations. Keep doing what you can to help and support him, but as you've already recognised, he is still a kid whereas you're a young adult. It's natural that you're going to be thinking about moving forward in life, understanding the importance of skills, works, etc, whereas he mostly wants to play. That's what kids do, their job is still to keep growing! I think as long as you're keeping an eye on him, and as long as you can intervene to give him more opportunities at the right stages (travelling with him is a great idea!), and as long as you're there to notice if/when he ever gets into trouble and to help out -- then I think he'll do just fine.

It's cool that he's interested in making videos, it's a great way to be creative! Just make sure he realizes that like in other kinds of media, the big shots who get all the views and ad-money are a very small proportion, and for most people it's just a hobby, or a sideline. But it's also a brilliant way to build skills, learn how to network, build and run an audience/community, and many other things which may well help him out later in life and lead to bigger things (e.g. Minecraft can be great for teaching about basic programming, or if he's running servers and stuff, then it can get pretty advanced!).

Best of luck, you have a brilliant attitude and I know you're both going to do great!
posted by Drexen at 9:08 AM on October 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

I was in a somewhat similar situation to you, at least as far as the age is concerned; I'm 11 years older than my brother and was not all that thrilled with the way he was being parented in a lot of ways. He was very smart and good in school, but spent a lot of time watching bad TV and playing video games and so forth the way your brother does.

He also said things like "retard" and homophobic terms, and made derogatory remarks about people of other races, and like that. My parents declined to correct him or talk to him about it because they didn't see why it was a big deal; in fact, my mother once got furious at me when he used a racial slur and I said something to him about it. He also was a little bit of a bully for a while, and to be honest about it, I think my parents thought it was kinda cool that he was one of the popular kids, and never took any action until the school authorities got involved (and I think only then because they were embarrassed at having him be the subject of disapproval by adults). I also used to lecture him sometimes about watching too much TV or what have you, and he got annoyed with me.

So I figured that the best thing I could do for him was (not to pat myself on the back) just be myself and show him there was another way. Didn't watch a lot of TV and spent a lot of time reading instead; had friends of other races and sexual orientations; tried to introduce him to the music I liked; took him to plays and movies that he wouldn't have chosen to see himself -- that sort of thing. Just spent a lot of time with him in general. I also tried to listen to him without judgment, and stuck up for him during those times that our mother got irrationally angry at him, so he trusted me.

I don't know how much was because of me and how much was because his environment changed when he went to college, but he's turned out to be a very good man and a great father (he's in his late 30s now and I'm in my late 40s). I think I'd be friends with him even if he weren't my brother. So I guess my advice would be don't stress about it or overthink it too much, and don't try to consciously steer him in a particular direction; he'd probably start to resent that. Just spend as much time with him as you can, doing what you do; it sounds like you two have a good relationship and having you as a sister will be a really good thing for him even if you don't make a concerted effort to change him. I'm guessing you'll also be a great sounding board for him when he's a teenager and you're still a young adult, and that will also solidify the relationship between you two.

Good luck -- you sound like a great sister!
posted by holborne at 9:15 AM on October 10, 2014 [5 favorites]

Some messages come better from those who are not your parents, so there is a silver lining there.

One of the best things you can do for a young person is just to listen. Don't nag, criticize, or judge*. Ask his opinion on things, such as if he wants to move into your room. If he is agreeable, work together to find a room layout that works.

When possible, involve him in your life. Invite him to come join you one day as you go study in the library for a bit, then go do [special thing together.] Let him tag a long with you and your friends.

Enable him. If he is interested in video games, help him find opportunities that allow him to create his own. In a few years, when he says that he really wants an expensive pair of shoes you can offer to help him find a job. Meanwhile, help him cultivate skills that may pay off down the line. For instance, right now he might want to refine his basket ball skills, and help some younger kids with their basketball skills if he wants to work at a basketball camp as a teen.

*Youth pick up quickly on the hypocrisy of "Don't judge others. Unless they are playing video games."
posted by oceano at 9:59 AM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm totally touched by your care for your brother. It made my day.

If there's one piece of advice I would give it's to always praise your brother whenever he puts a big effort into learning or doing something. Praise him especially when he fails IF he makes an effort. You're teaching your brother not to fear failure and to stick with something rather than give up. All too often adults praise kids for nothing (Johnny's so smart, he knows 1+1=2!) and kids get used to that. Then when they're faced with a difficult task they have a melt down because they don't understand the importance of learning and failing. There's a lot of psychology to back this up. Example: "Wow, bro, I'm totally impressed with the effort you put into studying for that math test. So what if you got a C+? Last time you got a C- and now you know: if you put more effort into it you CAN do better. That's the important thing to remember."

There's also this thing that really helped my cousin turn into an awesome, responsible human being. His parents made him get a job as soon as he was old enough to work, like a part-time job in a mall. They wanted him to see work as something that's just a part of life, not a big deal, like breathing. Even though he didn't have to, my cousin even worked while he was in college. So now the skills required to get a job and hold onto it come very naturally to him. He learned the importance of hard work, pulling his weight and people skills that have made a big difference today. For instance, his company had a round of layoffs during a recent tough time. A couple of topnotch coworkers, people with Harvard degrees he was sure would get to keep their jobs, were laid off while he's still there.

Also I agree, the friends he has can make a big difference in who he becomes. If he has friends that read, he'll want to read more. If he has friends that play with fire, he'll want to play with fire, and so on. So, yeah, try and help your brother get involved with a good group of kids. You can find a kids' reading group at a library or bookstore, for instance. Or look at Time Out for Kids and see what kinds of educational events are going on and take your brother there to meet other kids that are into science, learning, etc. Check this out.

One last things. Help your brother get comfortable expressing how he feels. Make sure he understands that his feelings, whatever they are, are okay. If he's angry at something or someone, it's okay to feel that way. What's not okay is to act on it in a way that's harmful or wrong. For example, my friend's son really wanted a toy and my friend refused to get it. So the son got really angry, threw a temper tantrum and hit his sister. What's okay: wanting toy, getting angry. What's not okay: hitting sister. It sounds obvious but kids can easily learn the wrong lesson--that the anger is wrong and then they start doubting or surppressing their feelings.

Good luck and let us know how things go!
posted by lillian.elmtree at 10:26 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm confused by your comment that you have the one bedroom, and also that you live away at school. Do you mean the bedroom is empty most of the year while the three of them sleep in the living room? If that's the case then to me it would make sense for either your brother or your parents to get the bedroom permanently, and you get a bed either in the bedroom or the living room when you are home on vacation. Your house doesn't sound big enough to keep space for someone who isn't there. And if you got to be the one saying "hey bro, I decided you should have my room now" that would likely be a great start to making him feel like you are nice to him.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 10:36 AM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think Drexen's got it - if you've had your own ups and downs with your brother, he may not feel ready to listen to or trust you (especially now that he's a preteen). It may take some time to build a rapport. Listening to him and trying to reach him where he is (just hanging out with him, playing those games, asking him questions about them, or basketball) will probably go further than efforts to be a second parent (which he may resent). Just sort of be easy and let him lead, there. (Don't be discouraged by monosyllabic responses, which are likely - stick with it. Maybe take him and a friend of his to a ball game if you can, now and then.)

(Also, emotional and physical abuse, a volatile/charged atmosphere at home, and lack of structure can have emotional and cognitive consequences that look like ADHD. I think your idea of creating a quiet space for him is great, and could potentially help a bit in that direction; if you yourself have issues regulating your emotions / calming down, learning how to do that, and then modelling that for him, might help as well inasmuch as it might contribute to creating a calm atmosphere, or helping him learn coping methods to calm himself. That might be one reason he's turning to video games. Regardless, if he can turn that into something positive and constructive, applaud it. Also, it sounds like your mom is overwhelmed and not really equipped to place boundaries on his behaviour.. encourage her to seek out stress relief and any other kind of help she needs for herself, as well.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:49 AM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

Growing up with a sibling in a less than stellar home environment I know where you're coming from as an older sibling.

What was unfortunate for me in that a lot of the abuse and hostility in our family was targeted towards me, while my other sibling, who had a much more pliant personality had a very different experience of growing up.

I grew up with a very keen sense of responsibility for my sibling, but in "drawing fire" for them also mixed with a great deal of hostility and jealousy.

As a result of this we replicated a strange dynamic in our adult relationships; me always on the outside, with them only semi detached from the strange family relationships.

Drawing this out as adults is tricky, for me in feeling my sibling's validation of my experience and our shared life together that I have a real desire to share with them only happens one to one in private - a bit like being let into a walled garden.

This has been very hard for me, especially as I have got older, have been to therapy and unlocked this desire to talk about stuff that goes beyond their comfort zone.

This has been tough to accept sometimes, but I've had to acknowlege and respect this boundary and have taken the positive choice of choosing to accept this and resolving to be a compassionate witness to the way she lives her life, deals with our family and raises her own.

I guess what i'm trying to say by my own example is to understand that though you feel this responsibility, and have such a clear drive to make this crazy situation right on a practical level, you might not be able to do everything you would wish.

On an emotional level you might have to accept that there is little you can do and to accept your sibling as an an individual and his relationships with other people as his own. Although you might think you own the truth and feel he should share in your understanding, you might find he may not, or cannot ever be truly in sympathy with you or give you that validation to the extent that you want it, or in some cases even hear about it. Respect that choice.

As siblings our belief in our ability and desire to control situations and relationships never leaves us, and is a lasting remnant of the faulty thinking our abuse left us with, and can blind us to the ability to really get what we want which is the love and understanding that we rightly deserve. Rather than hoping one day for total love and acceptance, the tearful event where everything we say is validated and seen to be "true". Sometimes unstated love and affection and tacit acknowlegement is all we can hope for.

Have faith in your sibling, respect who they are and the choices they make. they are human too, and have all the same choices you do, trust them to make the right decisions and act justly and as they do and choose neither to feel jealous of them or put them on a pedestal, or feel jealousy for those they love too.

Instead offer your sincere love and appreciation to them, but offer your help and advice only when asked and trust them to do right, even when it feels wrong to you.

“I know not; am I my brother's keeper?”
posted by Middlemarch at 1:02 PM on October 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

There is a lot of great advice here - pair it with your commendable desire to help bring your brother up right and he'll be one fortunate young man. You're awesome.

I just wanted to add a small thing that I haven't seen mentioned; he's only 11 now, but some day soon he'll be entering into romantic relationships. You, at 20, have an opportunity to lead by example and show him what good healthy relationships can look like and how women should be treated. My brother is younger than me, and I think that my relationship with my husband (and the boyfriends before him) has shown my brother a lot about how to be a good partner. Not every person you date will be perfect, but YOU can ensure you're respected and happy. At 25, my brother is an absolute prize, one who respects women and is attracted to strong, motivated ones.
posted by lesalvo at 2:41 PM on October 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm 10 years older than my brother and felt much if the way you do. He's turned out to be an awesome person and I'd like to take some of the credit for it:) I think what everyone has said so far is great and effective. I'll just add that you can be the gateway to all the things he would not get a chance to experience if he didn't have you. Having him join you in what you do (college study lounge, dining hall, restaurants etc) will expose him to the world and allow him to learn some other skills like holding a conversation, observing you negotiate your life, decent manners etc.

Additionally i did a few other things

*I really enjoyed making up our own brother and sister traditions such as taking him out to Denny's (I know it's not the best but all we had for fine dining) and allowing him to order whatever he wanted on his 1st day of school.

*I always liked to be present at any of his school functions, sports, family fun nights, graduations etc.

*We listened to his music and watch movies together and discussed the meaning behind the lyrics bc I wanted him to think critically about any questionable content.

*Having conversations that he wanted to have were really important but also bringing him into conversations and encouraging him to have an opinion.

*help him to process anything that might be confusing or that made him feel badly (family, friends, school stuff)

Really it was not always the activity that was important but more so an opportunity to show him something new or just spend good times together. the fact that you're concerned about this shows that you're already doing a great job!
posted by PeaPod at 12:06 PM on October 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the great answers. I've basically decided to spend with him, listen and just love him unconditionally. And also model good behavior. I'm working out the logistics of him moving into my room. I'll post an update in a couple of months when I get to hang out with him after I'm done with my school semester. I have so many cool things planned for the two of us!!
posted by starlybri at 3:59 PM on October 17, 2014

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