DEAR KELLY: My little sister hangs out with the wrong crowd, and I don’t know what to do. People keep asking me if I know what my sister is doing – like they know more than me – and like it’s something really bad.
She’s only in middle school but I know the people she hangs out with are all trouble. She’s always on Instagram posting things with her friends. Recently, she posted a picture that looks like her with a red plastic cup and wrote the hash #bestnighteverwhatiremember. All her friends were writing things like how funny she was that night and how it was “epic” to see her like that.
When I asked her if she got drunk, she just said she would never tell me because I would tell my parents and she doesn’t trust me. I felt bad that she has no trust in me to even tell me if she got drunk and doesn’t even think I could keep a secret for her. I wonder if she’s taking alcohol from my parents, because they have a lot of wine and beer and I know they have no idea if she was taking it. I know I heard her talking to her friends about this one time.
I’m really concerned that she is becoming a total partyer, and she’s not even in high school. I don’t want to snitch her out because I know she doesn’t trust me already. That would make things even worse, but I really want my parents to know what she’s doing so they can do things like not let her sleep over at everyone’s houses where she parties and gets wild. If I do tell and she finds out, will she hate me for doing this? I’m scared to do something and scared to not do something.
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- Big Sis
DEAR BIG SIS: It’s OK to be scared. Considering the situation, your feelings are normal. It’s time to switch from being scared to being brave and listening to your heart. Being brave means doing something because you know it’s right, even though you are afraid to do it and you know others might be upset with you, and yet you still do it.
You need to change your thought process and not think of it as snitching, but rather as making your sister accountable to what she is doing and risky choices she is making. You wouldn’t be a snitch for telling your parents, you would be doing the big-sister thing and hopefully helping her avoid the dangers her current behaviors are leading her to.
Start by suggesting your parents take a look at your sister’s Instagram. If they don’t know how to navigate her site, you might need to help them. Let them do some browsing and see if they spot some red flags from her posts. Your parents should become regular followers of your sister’s Instagram and she should know that they will see whatever she posts. If she insists on having any social media, the rule should be that they get to follow her. End of story.
They may be able to take enough from her Instagram to know that she is making bad choices and hanging out with the wrong people. You might not even need to say anything once they see all the things she is posting. Hopefully, they are enlightened to what she is doing and realize that they need to set some serious boundaries on what and where they are allowing her go.
If they don’t seemed concerned about her based on her Instagram, then you need to sit them down and share your concerns. Tell them what people tell you about the people she is hanging out with. Let them know your worry that she is stealing alcohol from them. Share your concerns about when she has sleepovers. Ask them to keep whatever you say in confidence and not tell your sister what you have said.
It’s not a matter of “if” you should tell. It’s more a matter of need – you need to tell for your sister’s sake. If she is partying like this and she is only in middle school, she is walking down a very dangerous road that could lead to something very serious, like substance abuse or addiction. Keeping quiet is allowing her to be unsafe, unhealthy and in jeopardy of ruining her life.
Being in a family means her business is your business if it is threatening, unsafe or dangerous to her. Alerting your parents to what she is doing could be saving her future and possibly her life. Don’t take the chance of living with regret if something were to happen and you never told. Reach out to your parents and be brave. Do what is right and trust your intuitions. Speaking up now could save your sister from making some poor choices that could change the course of her life.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.