DEAR KELLY: My parents think I have to take my little sister everywhere I go, and it’s starting to become a serious problem. My sister was a freshman last year, and she didn’t make a lot of friends because she’s shy and doesn’t get to know people. She spends her lunch in the library, and even though she’s in marching band, she didn’t make any friends in band.
My parents think it’s my job to take her out, but our friends are not the same. My friends don’t have anything in common with her and it’s awkward. When I ask to do things, my parents say you can go if you take your sister, and I don’t want to do that so I don’t even go sometimes. When I do take my sister, she just sits there and doesn’t talk to anyone. My mom thinks my sister will get socially better if she just hangs with me and my friends, but it doesn’t get better, and she’s not becoming the social butterfly my mom wants her to be. If anything it’s getting worse the more my mom pushes it.
What should I do? I love my sister, but I don’t want to be responsible for her happiness in high school. My sister prefers books to people and would rather be playing Farmville than hanging out with my friends and me, but she knows my parents would freak out if all she did was stay home, so she has to come with us sometimes just so my parents get off her back.
Big Sister With Little Sis Problem
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DEAR BIG SISTER: Your parents want your sister to be more social, but it seems like they are forcing her to become someone she isn’t. If your sister likes books or doesn’t enjoy socializing in big groups, your parents need to accept her instead of trying to change her. My guess is she is an introvert and your parents want her to be more extroverted and have friends.
Does your sister even enjoy going out with you and your friends? Maybe the conversation needs to begin with her telling your parents that she doesn’t like to be with big groups and it makes her uncomfortable. Encourage her to tell your parents that while she appreciates their trying to help her, it’s making things worse between you and her, and between you and your friends. Perhaps they would stop forcing it if they knew she really didn’t like it and that it wasn’t making her come out of her shell. Your parents are hoping your sister will “come around” and suddenly become social, but I sincerely doubt that will happen. Your parents are making her feel more awkward and hurting her self-image.
If your sister can’t talk to your parents, sit them down and tell them how uncomfortable your sister is when she goes out with you and your friends. Let them know that maybe you can take your sister to the movies or the gym or other places, and perhaps she would feel better just one-on-one instead of with a big group. Tell them that forcing her to go out isn’t making her more social and they need to let her figure things out for herself when it comes to forming friendships.
The next time your parents insist you invite your sister, start by asking your sister if she even wants to go. If she doesn’t, then have her tell your parents that she would rather not be forced to go. If they want her to be more social, she can find things that make her happy such as volunteering at an animal shelter or library, or helping the band director with the instruments.
It is not right your parents hang your sister as a contingency to your being able to go out. You should be allowed to go out with your friends if your sister chooses to stay home. They are not helping the sister relationship by insisting you hang out together. Reach out to your sister and find out if she wants to do something alone with you, and point out to your parents that this is a more positive way to get your sister to go out and one that everyone feels good about.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.