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I am the eldest son in my family. I have younger sisters in their early 20s. The problem is they are really attached to their friends that I consider toxic, a bad influence on my sisters.

Some of their behaviors are:

  • Coming home very late at night.
  • Acting aggressively when advised by an older person
  • Lying about their whereabouts when called

We are Asian and adopt Middle Eastern cultures. These behaviors are not okay for me because I really care for them and my parent. So, how do I to tell them to stop befriending these people and cease their behavior, or at least prioritize their family over their friend in any circumstances?

Clarifications

  • When my sisters have received advice from elders in the past, they've ignored it and said something like "Mind your own business."
  • In our culture, they're considered either adults or in transition to adulthood.
39

My Experience

Having lived in Southeast Asia (Singapore) all my life, and also being at your sister's current age range, I understand how you (and your sisters) feel. I've seen far too many of my friends turn into frequent party-goers, constantly disregarding family.

When parents advise me to mix with the right company, not return home too late, not do anything stupid, etc etc, it makes me feel very restricted and flustered, and I think to myself, "Can't I just have a peaceful outing with my friends without any disturbances from my family? I know what I'm doing." However I know that my parents care about me, and they call me and give me advice out of their concern.


Answer

It is very common for adolescents in Asia to behave in a similar way as I do. Perhaps I am more obedient than average because of strict upbringing ever since I was a child. However, since we can't turn back the time and enforce stricter upbringing on your sisters, the best way to remedy this situation is to let go. The tighter the leash you put on them, the more they will rebel. A quote I heard is

Patience and caring is more powerful than force.

So instead of disallowing them to mix with their friends, or constantly nagging at them, just let them go. Accept their way of life and care for them, ask them "How was your outing?", "Did you have fun today?" rather than "Why are you home so late into the night?" and "Did you go out with those bunch of hooligans again?". Once your sisters feel accepted, they will feel that their family is supporting them. And if they find out that their "friends" betrayed them further down the road, at least they learnt the lesson and they'll understand that family is the most important and reliable.


TL;DR: Most adolescents our age just want to feel supported, and constant nagging just shows disapproval. Unfortunately, most of us nowadays only learn things the hard way: from mistakes and experiences. So let your sisters err. If they make mistakes along the way, they can then learn from it.

Side note: If they have made a mistake, don't reprimand, don't offer to handhold them through their mistake, they want to be independent so let them solve it on their own. Only if they come to you or your parents for help should you offer assistance to them.

  • 2
    Great answer, especially "at least they learnt the lesson and they'll understand that family is the most important and reliable." I feel being told something is a lot less effective than learning it myself. – Childishforlife Jul 10 '18 at 17:47
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    I find the answer questionable - it is the role of parents to parent, not brothers. Brothers may offer to accompany sisters or take them to their parties/social gatherings otherwise it sounds like some patriarchal system where males control the females regardless of actual relationship. If the sisters live with parents, parents may apply stricter rules regarding life style at possible cost of driving sisters away from home even more. – Nat Jul 11 '18 at 9:13
38

You don't.

One of my best friends is the younger sister in this situation with a brother 10 years older than her. From her perspective, she's an adult (and has been one for 4 years now) but she's still being treated like a child. Being told not to hangout with certain people. Being told she has an "attitude problem" and she needs to be nicer to her family.

From an outside perspective of the whole thing, it looks to me like a self fulfilling prophecy1. Her parents and brother treat her like she's not an adult, setting curfews and telling her which friends she can't hangout with so she reverts to acting like an adolescent, lying about who she's going out with and having a short temper with them, which just makes them treat her more like a child. Even if she tries to do what they say, she feels like she's giving in and letting them control her. She feels like she's losing.

You cannot change your sisters. You had 18 years2 to try to help raise them and teach them. They're now their own people. They're adults.

As such, quit treating them like children! It'll only perpetuate the circle and push them away from you. They're going to hangout with who they want and they're going to come back when they want. The only thing you can control is how they see you.

Are you the always-upset older sibling who nags them day and night no matter what they do? Or are you a supportive eldest sibling who's there for them, thick or thin. Someone they can turn to when they have hard problems they don't want to tell anyone else about?

I would strongly, strongly consider dropping this. Neither you nor your sisters will gain anything from you trying to control them.

However...

You can still have a strong relationship with them!

If you want to spend time with them but they always seem to be out late with friends, schedule something in advance. You could approach them with something like:

Hey sis, I feel like it's been forever since we just hungout. Did you want to grab lunch/go to the beach/see a movie together some time? I'm thinking maybe next weekend or the week after, when are you free?

Strong relationships are built on trust and support. Right now you're making yourself the bad guy. If you really want to be a big part of their life, you have to accept who they are and be there for them.

Disclaimer: the above is from a Western perspective. I'm not sure how things are in Malaysia, but this is based on my Western experience.


1. Probably more anecdotal than scientific, but Jane Elliott's famous "Blue eyes-Brown eyes" experiment and the infamous Stanford prison experiment both reinforce the fact that the way we look at and treat others can drastically change their personalities around us in scarily short amounts of time.

2. Looks like 18 is when kids are considered adults in Malaysia.

  • 7
    The Stanford Prison Experiment was completely unscientific, see Criticism of the SPE. For example, the guards were directly coached to certain behaviors. Many psychologists don't teach its findings because the experiment is so unscientific. Jane Elliot's or Zimbardo's studies would never be seen as good evidence for anything in psychology if they were made today. – Eff Jul 10 '18 at 7:23
  • @Eff I had no idea, thanks for the catch! Edited the footnote to clarify not to treat it like hard scientific fact. Let me know if you think it needs to be reworded further. – scohe001 Jul 10 '18 at 15:31
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    No, you're fine now. I really like psychology as a topic, but there is no question that the field has been forced to improve a lot over the years. It's simply because I care about psychology being a rigorous science. – Eff Jul 10 '18 at 15:50
4

(I come from Europe, so the following may seem foreign to you)

You cannot decide who your adult sisters choose as friends. You can, however, try to affect your relationship with them. They are going to move out soon. The things you do today can decide whether they will still be family or strangers afterwards.

You believe that your sisters' unwanted behaviour come from these friends. That might not be the case. They might have decided their behaviour on their own and then chosen friends that agree with them.

Part of the problem is respect. Your sisters don't give you and your parent the respect you think they should. In the west it is a saying that respect has to be earned. Have you earned their respect? The most important part of earning that respect is that you must respect them.

It seems to me that you owe your sisters an apology. Something like

I remember too well the time when you were children.
Because of that I have been treating you like children.
But you are now adults. I need to remember that.
I am sorry for treating you like children.
Can we start over, as adults and equals?
We are still family, and I still love you, and I would deeply regret losing contact with you over this.

I don't know your family, so I don't know how things are between you today, but here are how things should be:

  • You must accept that their friends are important to them.
  • They must accept that you don't like these friends.
  • You must accept that they are busy. The things they do are important to them.
  • They must accept that for the family to stay a family, they need to spend some time together with you.
  • They must accept that if they make a promise, such as spending a day with you, they need to keep that promise.
  • You must also keep your promises to them.
  • They must accept that lying is not acceptable. They may have secrets. They may refuse to answer questions, but they must not lie to you.
  • If they refuse to answer questions, you must accept that.
  • You must not lie to them.
  • You must never accuse them of anything without good proof.
  • If your parent keep treating them as children, you should take their side and gently remind your parent that they are now adults.
3

You don't.

Your sisters are adults now. As adults, they don't have to listen to you, or to their elders.

You can advise them that you think this isn't in their best interests, as can your parents. You can't tell them though, because you do not have that authority over them. If they feel you're trying to tell them what to do, they may (rightly) get annoyed. And if this is a pattern of behaviour, they may well take steps to avoid conflict, like lying about what they are doing.

You can refuse to socialize with their friends - after all, their friends don't have to be your friends, or vice versa. You can refuse to support their late night parties, and if they spend all their money or are tired the next day, it's fine to not be sympathetic. You're entitled to disagree with them. But they're also entitled to disagree with you, and you need to accept that.

(I'll assume here that you don't live in a country such as Taliban-controlled Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, in which male family members do have a legal right to treat female family members as owned property. Or if you do live in such a country, that you see the evil in treating another human being in that way, and you don't intend to do that! That is what toxic really looks like...)

  • 2
    You can see that they live in Malaysia from the tags on the question ;) – scohe001 Jul 11 '18 at 2:08

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