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Auntie SparkNotes: Should I Rat Out My Big Bro?

Auntie SparkNotes: Should I Rat Out My Big Bro?

Hey Auntie,

I have been having some problems with my brother, but it isn't the: "YELL, YELL, FIGHT, LEAVE" kind. It's the kind in which I have to hide information from others about his "doings." Being a senior, I know its important to have some fun times with friends and stuff but there are some things that my parents (and I) dub as just plain wrong.

Most of his behaviour is fine, but occasionally he will go out and do something really stupid (On an orchestra trip, he tried some form of drug or something, I don't know the name but i know it was bad). Although I would prefer that he would stop doing stuff, it’s worse that he tells me about it. One time he came home telling me that he raced with his friend down city streets at up to 90 and driving in the middle of lanes, backwards, AND SEEING HOW MANY TEXTS THEY COULD SEND along with doing other ill-advised stuff. Then later that same week, I was riding in the car with my mother and she asked if my brother did anything he shouldn't be doing while driving, like texting or stuff similar to that. I had to lie to her and say that he didn't, because if I told her the truth or gave examples of his poor judgement then he would trace it back to me. This cycle somehow seems to go on and on and on, and eventually, I think that I will go crazy.

I don't want to tell my parents that I lied to them because then we will both be in trouble (probably me more than him because my parents HATE lying), but I also fear that being tied down for the last three months before he goes to college will probably backfire. He'll get to college, finally free, and will do EVERYTHING. He'll drink, party, maybe do drugs because he is finally finally FINALLY away from being treated like a child. I don't want this to happen, and if I hold it in for a little while longer everyone's life will go on as normal, but I also want to make sure that he will continue to be my brother and not a tombstone (not the pizza).

Should I wait until his judgment improves (maybe in college?) or should I tell my parents and risk getting punished for the rest of my life but have the knowledge that my brother may or may not be safe?

Okay, first things first: as much as you’re understandably concerned about your brother’s safety, let me start off by assuring you that you can officially stop hyperventilating over his imminent death. Because believe it or not, just because your brother claims to have done a thing, that doesn’t mean this thing actually happened. When it comes to the self-reported shenanigans of testosterone-fueled teenage persons, the ratio of embellished horse-dookie to actual fact is usually something like 20:1... and the more outrageous the shenanigan, the bigger that first number gets.

So, what does that mean? In this case, that no ordinary teenager could drive a car in reverse at more than 20 miles per hour without blowing out the transmission—let alone take it up to 90, without having an accident, and while texting... but plenty of ordinary teenagers might tell a gullible little brother an outrageous story, just for funzies, in order to look like a bad-ass. (And not realizing that the little brother would believe said story in its totality and panic himself nearly to death.)

Basically, darling, I think you got taken.

So, maybe ask your brother to knock off the hyperbole—and warn him that telling you this stuff puts you in a bad position. (E.g.: “Can you please stop telling me things like that? It freaks me out, I never know if you’re telling the truth, and then I have to lie to mom when she asks if you’re getting into trouble. So enough, alright?”) And in the future, feel free to take everything he says with several hundred grains of salt... and not claim knowledge of his activities, to your parents or otherwise, until or unless you’ve actually witnessed him making a life-threateningly terrible decision with your own eyeballs. Otherwise, you're not providing useful information; you’re just repeating gossip, and with potentially terrible consequences.

And by the way, I do mean life-threatening. Your brother is a grown person, with his own moral compass, and his decisions are just that: his. It's not up to you to police his behavior, and unless he is in literal danger of imminent death, it’s not your place to tattle on him for doing things that you consider “just plain wrong.” Because even if he has the stereotypically crappy judgment of the stereotypically dumb teenage dude, his judgment will never get better until he’s able to make his own crappy decisions, suffer the crappy consequences, and realize that he’s getting himself into deep... crap.

Which brings me to this: though you don’t explicitly say so, I can’t help adding up the pieces of your letter—your mom asking you to serve as an informant, your bro’s acting-out and boundary-pushing, and your moral panic over his possible behavior once he’s away at school and no longer being treated like a child—and see in your brother's behavior the rebellious rebound of a too-tightly-leashed teenager who’s desperate to get some control over his life. And no wonder: your brother is nearly an adult. It's time he was treated like one.

Because you’re right. Soon he’ll be at college, where he’s going to do... well, whatever he’s going to do. You can’t stop him, and you can’t save him. But you can give him the one thing that might make a difference: some room, some respect, and some faith in his abilities to navigate life on his own without driving over a cliff.

Which, with a little trust from the people he loves, he'll probably manage just fine.

Have you ever worried about the illicit activities of an older sibling? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at

Related post: Auntie SparkNotes: Should I Rat Out My Cheating Classmate?

Topics: Advice
Tags: auntie sparknotes, siblings, secrets, brothers, tattling

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About the Author

Kat Rosenfield is a writer, illustrator, advice columnist, YA author, and enthusiastic licker of that plastic liner that comes inside a box of Cheez-Its. She loves zombies and cats. She hates zombie cats. Follow her on Twitter or Tumblr @katrosenfield.

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