My brother was always teased as a little boy because he was slow in school and pretty dorky. I was always able to protect him, but now he is fifteen, still being teased, and I am going to college next year. I will not around him as much to help him out of bad situations. I know it is not my job to protect him and maybe I should have let him fight his own battles, but the kids in our school are really tough. I am really worried about him getting hurt.
What do I do to help prepare him?
I understand your worry. This world can be cruel and seemingly full of curses. However, many of us have made our way, triumphantly through the many trials presented to us, and your brother will too. Many would say that we have lost our necessary male initiation rights through cultural translation and transformation. I would tell any one of those scholars to spend a day in their local high school! Hazing is a scary subject, often viewed as abusive and acceptable, but this is not what I speak of. I mean to consider the monumental moments that act as catalysts for growth, those available to all young people, in this case, young men. These events, trials, rituals- none of them are meant to be easy. So, here we begin the mutual consideration of what will be the most advantages means of supporting your brother through his own initiations into young adulthood, peer conflict included.
What your brother will need from you comes in the form of a teacher. Let’s frame this in terms of a warrior beginning his journey and assent into manhood. He is currently a student of the world and of his sister’s approach to conflict resolution, both within the Self and within the world. You cannot prepare him by doing for him. So, take a deep breath and a step back. How do you approach the world? Is there any room for growth and practice, young teacher?
I might begin with a conversation, a heart-to-heart about his readiness to fight his own fights. Carefully too; a young man’s ego is very fragile and he will respond better to a building up rather than what is potentially perceived as condescension. Discuss interpersonal character. His character, his person-hood, cannot be lost. It cannot be shaken. There is only a question of what can be gained from his social experiences. Teach non-violent Zen mediums of conflict resolution. This is a huge lesson for young people, especially at a time when hormones are primarily what drive us. Testosterone and aggression often go hand-in-hand. How do we turn our cheeks? How do we disengage, take a deep breath, and walk away? How do we smile at fear and anger, and act toward our enemies with kindness? These are the lessons for the young hero. It is more likely that your brother will have the courage to take on the monsters of the world if he recognizes himself as just this, a hero.
Provide affirmation and validation to aid him. What he needs is to develop his self-esteem. He needs a cheerleader. This can be most powerful. Have faith in him and be there when he calls on you, in whatever way you realistically can be, and remind him that this is your role now. Truly, your brother’s strength lies in his own sense of Self. Help him to wake that up and draw from it. You can still be there in the background, but by encouraging him to stand up for what he believes in, to stand down when he doesn’t feel ready for a fight, without shame that is, because we all face these realities. Remind him that the harshness of his peers is likely to come from their own insecurities. He can find comfort in that what they make fun of they have difficulty facing within themselves.
Always encourage him to speak out. This will define his character and may at times be harder than others, but he will never go through what he faces alone, and will likely draw more help from peers, family, and authority figures in doing so. Encourage his cultivation of relationships with those that do accept him and authority figures that inspire him. These alliances will guide your brother in the formation of his own value and support systems. What your brother really needs is a bag of tools to draw from. Help him fill up his bag. I hope that this advice ultimately reminds you that the hardest part of this dynamic is in the letting go of who you were to your brother. The most beautiful part is who you are now becoming. When all else fails, teach him how to throw a stellar right hook. He will be just fine. You both will.
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* The ideas and advice presented here are not a substitute for professional advice. Talk to your psychologist, counselor, physician or health care professional for situations that warrant further analysis.