Auntie SparkNotes: Are My Friends Turning Into Toxic People?
Ahoy! SparkLife's wisest Auntie is taking a well-deserved vacation from the advice game this week. While we eagerly await her return, we'll be publishing some of her vintage posts!
Hey there Auntie,
I'm writing to you because I'm worried about two of my friends. It would help if I gave our background: my family and their family have known each other since I was around three, and I can't remember a time when we weren't friends. Their kids are all around my sister's and my age, and we basically grew up together. We call each others' parents "Aunt" and "Uncle," and our families are very close.
Me (18, high school senior) and my younger sister (15, freshman) have been really worried about their two oldest kids for a while now. They have three kids— we'll call the oldest Kaitlyn (16, a junior), the middle child Alex (15, a sophomore), and the youngest Jackson (13, an 8th grader). Kaitlyn and Alex really worry my sister and me.
Kaitlyn has always been "the princess" of the family, being the only girl, and she's always been rather entitled. She has the oldest child trait of always needing to be in control, but this has developed very unhealthily. She constantly snaps at her brothers for really petty things, she must always be in charge, and she blames all her erratic and emotionally unhealthy behavior on "mood swings." It's difficult to concisely explain how insufferable she can be — but try to imagine a 16 year old girl arguing lividly in the backseat for 15 minutes because her little brother accidentally poked her once, said he was sorry, and now she's trying to physically force him to sit on his hands. It's absolutely ridiculous. She's also developed some very unhealthy codependent friendships — her friends in her grade are this little clique that is always gossiping and always being very judgmental. If her friends decide to dislike someone, all of them decide to do it, even people who I personally know are very kind and selfless. It's like an unhealthy hive mind, and it worries me.
Alex is very much the middle child who always has to prove himself. Always. He's incredibly cocky, arrogant, and is the most competitive person I've ever met. He always needs to have the last word (which isn't likely when Kaitlyn is around...) and when he's "proving himself" he'll trash talk you and say absolutely horrible things just to prove he's "better" or something. He has terrible sportsmanship, refuses to admit he's lost anything (he will cry when you beat him in a card game. He is 15.) and yet he loves to bring up every other time he's beaten other people, and he holds things over your head for literal years — things like times he beat you in a video game in 2009. It's ridiculous.
Their household is just miserable to be in—and these are kids we've grown up with our whole lives. We used to love having sleepovers and playdates when we were young, but that was back when "sibling rivalry" could explain the frequent fights and physical altercations happening at their home. Now, my sister and I hate being in their home because nothing has changed. Kaitlyn and Alex fight with each other, pick on Jackson (who is a sweet little boy who just gets caught in this horrible crossfire), and leave my sister and me to just stand there while they fight, talk back to their parents (who've given up, pretty much), and just be these kids I hardly recognize.
It hurts to see my childhood friends be so immature and petty, Auntie. My sister and I have blown up at them once or twice when things got to be too much, but we both know that yelling and lecturing isn't going to help. I'm kind of the "big sister" as the oldest of the bunch, but nothing I say gets across, even when done gently. When they're in good moods, I still love being their friend, but more often than not, they're just acting like... well, like brats.
Is there any way I or my sister can help or be a voice of reason, Auntie? Is there any hope for my friends who are heading down paths of selfishness and being toxic people?
Why yes, Sparkler! Yes, there is. It's called…
...wait for it…
And I know, I knowwwwww, that this probably seems damn near impossible to believe—not least because you yourself obviously managed to make it to 18 without ever dabbling in this kind of bratty asshattery. (Or if you did, you had the good sense to stuff it down the memory hole and pretend it never happened.) So from your perspective, your friends are already well on their way to becoming their adult selves, and the ghastly behavior you've witnessed must therefore be just the beginning of a trend that can only get worse: a long, horrific downhill slide into the Eternal Pit of Irredeemable Buttheads.
But here's the thing, sweet pea: for most teenagers, how you behave at the age of 15 or 16 is just not a reliable predictor of what kind of "path" you're on, or what kind of person you'll be. (And let's just be grateful for that; otherwise, Auntie and all her best lady friends would still be starting flame wars in AOL chatrooms and wetting our pants every time someone said the words "Leonardo DiCaprio" — and most guys my age would be eschewing gainful employment, marriage, and fatherhood in favor of spending literally all their time lighting their farts on fire.) I mean, think about how you were three or four years ago; maybe you weren't going through a Total Pill phase like your friends, but surely you've still changed in some pretty significant ways, right?
So, the good news is, things are almost guaranteed to get better with time, once these kids have done some additional growing up, and particularly once the oldest one isn't living at home anymore. (Whatever the original source of the friction between them, having to share a bathroom almost certainly isn't helping the situation.) But the bad news is, until that happens, there's just not much you can do. Your friends are each living at the center of a personal tornado made out of equal parts raging insecurity, immaturity, impulse, and hormones — and as you've discovered, it's hard for anyone's voice to be heard and heeded over all that noise. There's no such thing as reasoning a teenager out of being petty, immature, melodramatic, and hypersensitive; you've just gotta trust that this phase is a phase, and wait for it to pass… which, not for nothing, is probably what their parents are doing as we speak.
HOWEVER! Where you can't control your friends' actions, you always get to decide how much of their toxicity you're willing to tolerate, and you don't need to be gentle when it comes to sending that message, either. If one or both of them are getting on your last nerve, just say something like, "I can't be around you when you're acting like this," excuse yourself, and leave the room. (And if it's really bad, maybe have a talk with your parents about letting you and your sister beg off every other visit until their friends' children are no longer behaving like monsters.)
If you're really lucky (and if they really care what you think) they might even be chagrined enough to knock off the shenanigans. But regardless, please try to stop short of fretting about what kind of people these kids are becoming—not just because they'll probably be fine, but because it's beyond your control regardless. Chances are good that Kaitlyn and Alex will grow up to be perfectly decent human beings, and that the time you spend together thereafter will be pleasant and conflict-free. But even if adulthood doesn't work its magic on your bratty friends, it'll work a different kind of magic on your ability to decide for yourself how much contact you have with them. And if the worst comes to pass, and you have to grit your teeth and make polite small talk with them at family gatherings once or twice a year from now on? That's an outcome which you, as an already grown-up person with the perspective and maturity to have written this letter in the first place, can definitely handle.
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