Auntie SparkNotes: My Sister Won't Stop Screaming at Me
Dear Auntie SparkNotes,
I love my sister (who we'll call V) very much, but she's been acting ridiculous lately and I don't know how to reason with her. It can be the smallest things (for example, my nine-year-old brother was writing a paragraph for his class. She edited it, and my mom asked me to re-edit it just to make sure. V found out about this and screamed her head off, accusing me of wanting her to kill herself, of being an awful sister, and telling me that she would rather be dead than around me). She has gotten mad at me for glancing over at her when we're at dinner, saying that I don't watch a show that she likes, or sometimes just being in the same room as her. She has even screamed at me for having my friend at our house after school (and this was when my friend was there).
I could tolerate this on its own, I guess (she is 14, after all), but what makes it worse is that my parents don't do anything, and whenever I bring it up they tell me that she's just "being a teenager."
Even if she is just being a teenager, I never acted like this when I was her age. It's gotten to the point where she's doing this sort of thing upwards of three times a day, and always directed at me. We share a room as well, and she's taken to locking me out of it when she gets like this. I just want her to stop yelling at me 24/7, but she won't listen to me at all (because, well... 14). It's even caused me to have panic attacks due to my sensory issues. Do you have any techniques that I could use to calm her down or to talk to my parents about this whole thing?
You mean, talk to them and somehow get them to willingly upset the precarious balance that's allowed them to share a home with your sister and avoid bearing the brunt of her ongoing teenage rage?
Not gonna lie, Sparkler: I think that's going to be a tough one. I'm not saying your parents are thrilled to just stand by and watch while your sister screams at you for having the nerve to exist within her general vicinity. But their apparent lack of concern about her behavior? That almost certainly has something to do with them silently thanking the gods every day that she's decided to unload all her teenage lunacy on you and not them. ("She's just being a teenager!" may be technically true, but it's also exactly the kind of blithely tolerant thing a person would say as they retreat to the safety of the bedroom they don't have to share with a 14 year-old ball of angry pubertal angst.)
None of which is to say that you shouldn't talk to them. But given their apparent unwillingness to wade in and correct your sister, you'll need to be strategic about how you approach them. Begging them broadly to do something, a.k.a. what you've been doing so far, clearly isn't going to work for you. (And trying to calm your sister down yourself, while I respect your courage, is possibly the worst idea in the history of bad ideas.) But asking them for a room of your own that you can retreat to when things get ugly? (Or if a room isn't available, perhaps a closet? A corner?) That's a reasonable, specific, and totally achievable request—and while it may take some creative finagling depending on the size and setup of your physical living space, the one thing it doesn't require is that anyone else change their behavior in order for you to feel better, which makes it by far your best bet. Furniture is unwieldy, but it doesn't scream when you push it around.
So, with that in mind, try approaching your parents as follows: explain that you understand they have limited sway over your sister's actions, but that being screamed at and locked out on a daily basis is making it incredibly unpleasant for you to be at home. And that if she's going to have free reign to yell at you, you're taking the initiative yourself from now on to get away from her. If you guys have a spare room, this is where you ask to move in there; if not, then maybe there's a place in your house that you could commandeer on a case-by-case basis when you need some quiet. (If all else fails, there's always the bathroom, a pair of noise-canceling headphones, and a well-stocked nail polish drawer.)
Because from now on, when your sister starts going off, you're going to make yourself scarce. You may not be able to stop her from screaming, but you certainly don't have to stick around to listen to it. Practice a one-line exit strategy—"I'm not going to let you talk to me this way" is a good one—and use it without fail, every time. Don't bargain, don't argue, don't beg. Just leave.
Once you're denying her the chance to use you as a target, your sister may cool it with the shenanigans. But even if she doesn't, you'll still be giving yourself the gift of not being harangued, and all its attendant benefits. Things may not be perfect, but they'll be better. And hey, if you're fast enough, you might even make it to your shared bedroom in time to lock her out. Not that I'm saying you should do that. I'm just, y'know, saying.
Got something to say? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.
Want more info about how this column works? Check out the Auntie SparkNotes FAQ.