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Ask Grandma Maggie

Parenting & Childcare Advice
Peggy Moss (1933-2014), also known as Grandma Maggie, penned a parenting column on this site for many years. Back by popular demand, we are republishing the column, sharing with you the best of Grandma Maggie’s parenting and childcare advice.
Unfortunately Grandma Maggie is no longer able to take questions.

My kid brother needs help!
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Dear Grandma Maggie,

My name is Taylor and I’m a freshman in college. I’m the eldest of three children, having a brother who is 14-years-old and a sister who is 12-years-old. The three of us are extremely close. I always felt the need to act as a protector/guide to them whenever they were in trouble or needed help. That has yet to change, as I got an urge to fix the rather large problem I was greeted with when I came home for winter break two weeks ago. My brother is in the skateboard-1509839_19208th grade and is in most classes that are at the lowest level of difficulty. We found out he was dyslexic when he was about 6 and held him back in kindergarten. It was very hard to accept in my family. My brother was constantly pushed to be friends with kids his own age (not the kids at his grade level) and to act mature. He was put into a resource room for English and math up until the 6th when my parents decided he was doing well enough to be put into a regular class. For the past year and a half or so, my brother has failed to do well in school. He’s been sent to numerous after school homework clubs and tutors, but nothing seems to help. Recently, he was caught by my parents doing drugs at a skate park with older kids (he adores skateboarding) and since then he hasn’t been allowed to leave his room except to go to school or go to work with my dad on the weekends.

This past week I noticed a lot of changes in him. Though he was still the sweet, caring, little brother I left in June, he has a different attitude toward himself and my parents. He has very low self esteem, which he never used to have. Everyone used to joke that he had an ego the size of Manhattan. He’s constantly saying “I’m stupid,” or “I can’t do this so I’m not going to bother trying.” He also has a hard time listening to our younger sister talk about her successes, especially in school. The fighting between my parents and him, which used to be rarely heard, is sickening to listen to. It goes on about how if he keeps up the attitude, he won’t be leaving the house and if he doesn’t get his act together in school he’ll be working at a fast food place and mowing lawns. He’s also started to become friendly with a lot of kids who aren’t the best people. After talking to him, I found out that the reasons for his behavior and involvement in drugs is because of stress and pressure. As for school, his answer was simply “I don’t do my homework, but it’s not like I don’t try in school. Besides, all that stuff they make me do won’t ever help me in life.”

I believe the reason why he’s getting into trouble is because he’s struggling in school but is embarrassed to tell a teacher or my parents — he needs to be moved to a lower class. He’s getting stressed over it and turning to things that will make the situation worse. He has no dreams whatsoever about going to college or succeeding in the future and that’s not the kid I know him to be. I want to do something to help him out and to realize that drugs and failing in school aren’t the way to go; provide something motivational to lift his self esteem and help him reach toward my parents for help. Talking to them myself really isn’t a choice. I thought about taking him to see a college or someone’s grave who has passed away from a drug overdose, but I’m not sure if that will have an effect on him. Any kind of answer would help. Both my parents are on the verge of giving up and I don’t think that’s fair to do to someone.

Taylor

Dear Taylor,

I think it’s wonderful that you are so concerned about your brother. It means you are a wonderful big brother, and you love him very much.

I would recommend that your brother and parents get some professional help to sort out what’s actually happening here. I suggest they meet with someone who can guide them so they aren’t pressuring your brother and accept him for what he can do and not focus on what he can’t accomplish. He also needs to find something at which he can excel and that may be something physical like the skateboarding with the provision that drugs are not involved. Substance use really won’t help him with life or the skate boarding. Your family needs some family counseling and I suggest they seek it. If you have any influence over them, then now is the time to use it.

Kindest regards,
Grandma Maggie