Straight Talk Advice

Why SHOULD I tell on the jerks?

Jun 09, 2015

No love here: Sibling cruelty makes kids disdain helping each other

Dear Straight Talk: I hear repeatedly in Straight Talk about telling on siblings in danger, but I don't see why I should when it would only make trouble for me. My stepsisters huff [inhale toxic household chemicals] in their room and their mom has no clue. They resent sharing their room with me on visitations and make fun of my overweight body when I'm changing — and if I change in the bathroom, they make fun of me again since “we’re all girls.” They say I’ll be sorry if I tell their mom about the huffing and I believe them. Why should I make a bad situation even worse for myself? —L.T., 16, Petaluma, California

Karlee 18, Bentleyville, Pennsylvania Ask me a question

This abuse often comes with blended families. You need to stick up for yourself. Huffing is incredibly dangerous, a life-or-death situation. You have to tell. They will lash out at first, but all of you will grow from it. Eventually they will realize you saved them from a far worse fate than getting caught.

Ryann 18, Tustin, California Ask me a question

Being made fun of is awful and I can see why you don’t care about them. That said, your stepsisters are abusing their bodies and you because they don’t feel good about themselves. Telling might save their lives and allow them a brighter future. Be sure to also tell about the threats and bullying. You carry a lot on your shoulders, but you have the power to do good — and I think you will!

Samantha 23, Toledo, Ohio Ask me a question

Are your stepsiblings aware that one “wrong” huff can kill them instantly? I know from experience the danger. If you won’t do it for them, do if for their parents. As awful as they are, their parents love them and it could save their lives. Report their bullying and threats as well and consider postponing visitations under these circumstances.

Lisa 23, Eugene, Oregon Ask me a question

I get how poorly they are treating you, but the consequences of something horrible happening are far worse than the consequences of telling. Can you tell your stepmom in confidence so she can “figure it out” independently? If you don't trust her, tell a family member you do trust.

Shel 17, Pleasanton, California Ask me a question

Be indirect. Casually ask Stepmom what the punishment would be for huffing. Dropping “legal” bombs like this (you’re not actually telling) might scare your stepsisters into quitting. Or the parents will pick up on it. If things don’t resolve, work your way to full disclosure.

Icis 17, Lehigh Acres, Florida Ask me a question

The evil stepsisters hate Cinderella for her natural beauty and purity. Even without a prince awaiting, don't allow these girls to criticize your beauty. The casing makes no difference when the soul is strong. Immaturity and cruelty will fade, but death from huffing won’t and the feeling of “what if” is the worst. Informing their mother about the huffing could prevent a horrible outcome. They might swear at you now, but will thank you later.

Dear L.T.: We get frequent protests from bullied peers, siblings and stepsiblings demanding: “Why should I tell?” I hear your point and to be clear nobody is to blame for someone else's self-destruction. Nonetheless, we tend to blame ourselves for the things we did or didn’t do that result in tragedy. Right now, caring is difficult, so I hope something we wrote touched your fear center and you’ll tell for yourself. Everyone wins and you’ll sleep better at night. (That someday, these sisters may have your back like nobody in the world is another good reason, but that’s for then…) We covered huffing on May 12 and it is indeed a high-death-risk activity. If you’re not feeling strong, inform an adult confidentially. They will be glad you did.

Editor’s Note: If I could magically fast-forward the teenage brain to full logical thinking this would be a no-brainer! Click this Hillary Smith infographic on why teens don’t always make the best decisions and why parental involvement is so important. —Lauren

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  1. By M.M., age 16, from Citrus Heights, California on 06/09/2015

    I have a similar issue that’s really concerning me, but its not a family or even a stepfamily member and the issue is cutting and anorexia, but the issue is still “should I tell/what should I do?” 

    It’s my best friend’s 13 year old sister.  She’s really pathetic and depressed and has no friends.  When I’m there for sleepovers in their room that they share I’ve seen her naked and see cut marks and I think she’s also anorexic based on the wasted state of her body.  My friend hates her sister and says “its her problem” and she’s not going to tell their mom who doesn’t seem to have a clue and has her own issues as she’s been drinking heavily ever since their dad left her for another woman last year and is usually drunk at night when I’m there. 

    If it were my own sister, I would definitely tell our mom.  We share a room so I would know if she had issues like this since we see each other naked every day, but our mom never sees us this way as she avoids coming in our room when were undressed or when were sharing the bathroom in the morning.  Unlike my friend, I love my sister and would feel a responsibility to do something if she had problems like this and would expect her to do the same if it was me.  But we do not have problems like this. 

    So what do I do when its my friends sister and her mom’s probably not even in a position to get her help even if I did tell her and if I did I would probably lose my best friend.


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    1. By LAUREN, from on 06/17/2015

      M.M.—Tell the school counselor. Even during summer, they should have someone there you can talk to. Tell them exactly what you share here. This little girl is in huge danger. Anorexia also has a high death rate, and long-term health effects for those who recover.

      Sometimes schools are quite powerless, so I would also tell both her mother and her father (if you know or can figure out how to contact him) at the same time. You can do this confidentially by making an anonymous call to both or beg for confidentiality. Either way, they get the message. You want her to get help fast. This could also be the thing that snaps this mother out of her drunken haze. She needs to have someone else to think about besides wallowing in her rejection.  What a sad situation. You are the light and can shine it on them. I hope you do! Let us know how it goes. As we said earlier, you will feel better, too,  knowing you did what was in your power to do.—Love, Lauren

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  2. By A.H., age 16, from Fontana, CA on 06/09/2015

    It’s really easy to say “you should tell” when you’re not the one whose going to suffer for it.  I don’t hear any of the panel members (or Lauren) who are so self-righteously saying this saying that they have ever been in this situation and were willing to tell and suffer the consequences!

    My stepsister doesn’t huff, but she does meth that she gets from her boyfriend.  I have to share my room with her all the time ever since her mom kicked her out and my stepdad made us take her in.  Even though she moved into my room, she acts like she owns the place and I have no rights.  I can’t even undress in my own room without being laughed at because my body isn’t perfect like she thinks hers is and my friends won’t spend the night anymore because she makes things hell for them too and also makes fun of their bodies when their naked.  It does no good to complain since my stepdad thinks she can do no wrong.

    She says “there will be hell to pay” if I tell about the meth and I don’t doubt it, so I’m not about to tell and if it wrecks her life, so be it. 

    In my opinion you don’t have the right to tell others what to do when you’re not the one whose going to suffer for it!  So get off your self-righteous high horses!


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    1. By LAUREN, from on 06/17/2015

      Hi A.H.—I wrote you below, under C’s comment (#4). Not sure if you are getting notified to look at that and want to make sure you see it.—Love, Lauren

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  3. By N.N., age 41, from Allentown, PA on 06/10/2015

    I would certainly want my teenage daughters to tell me if they knew that the other was huffing or using some other kind of drugs or had some other kind of serious problem.  However, in reality, I do not think that they would, and looking back to when I was a teenager, I do not think my sister and I would have told on each other either.  We never had serious issues like this, but we talked in confidence in our room about things we would not want our parents to know and had an uderstanding that everything that was said would just be between the 2 of us.

    My daughters are close and share a room.  Lately, they have been keeping their door locked.  As I read in a recent Straight Talk column on the door locking issue, they are not locking it for reasons of modesty as they allow me to come in when they are undressed and even nude, but I have to knock and ask to come in and have them unlock the door, and sometimes there is a slight delay so it makes me wonder if they are hiding evidence of something they don’t want me to see.  I frequently see them nude and have seen no evidence on their bodies of anything to be concerned about.  I do not smell anything in their room that would indicate huffing and have not seen anything in their behavior that would indicate any other kind of drug use.  I’m therefore telling myself that they are just typical teenagers who have “sisterly secrets” like my sister and I did, but the door locking still gives me some concern as I see no reason for it if they are not doing anything they want to hide from me.


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    1. By LAUREN, from on 06/17/2015

      N.N.—Glad you read the earlier column on door locking.

      Like I said there, it is your job to constantly delve and dig into their lives. I don’t blame you for being concerned. I certainly would be and am very grateful that the house I lived in when my kids were teens did NOT have locks on the bedroom doors. It just eliminates this worry because you CAN, if you feel you need to, just OPEN the door suddenly and ease your mind (or figure something out). As I mentioned in that column, I would avail yourself of their social media sites, which are public, but which most parents don’t check regularly considering all the drug deals I hear about that are posting there! Use urbandictionary. com to decipher the acronyms and slang. (Many kids have multiple social media sites these days… and probably use a code name for many… another reason to keep computers in public areas of the house, facing outward, so you can meander by and see what they are up to.)

      Another thing is to ask your daughters outright what is going on and note their reactions… making sure to read deeper than the words.

      I would also get to know the parents of their friends and exchange notes on a regular basis. Knowing there is a network of parents talking to each other about things can also act as a preventative or safety net. I hope this helps!—Love, Lauren

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  4. By C., age 14, from California on 06/11/2015

    I totally agree with A.H. that it’s real easy to say that you should tell when you’re not the one who is going to suffer for it, but not so easy when you you’re the one who is going to suffer!  My older sister with whom I have to share a room is very intimidating and constantly abuses me.  When I try to tell our mom, she brushes it off as “sibling rivalry.”  She says that she and her sister used to fight all the time, but now they are really close and it will be the same for us some day, but I doubt it and it doesn’t help me now anyway.  Like others I’ve read about, she makes fun of my body when I’m naked but I really have no choice but to undress in front of her.  We aren’t allowed to lock the bathroom door and she makes up excuses to even walk in on me on the toilet to embarrass me and make fun of me.  Our mom just says that it shouldn’t be a problem for sisters to share the bathroom and was never a problem for her and her sister. 

    My sister huffs nail polish and remover, but since she uses nail polish every day, the smell of it in our room doesn’t raise any suspicion.  My sister says I’d better not tell, and I have no intention to when she abuses me badly enough already.


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    1. By LAUREN, from on 06/17/2015

      To C. and A.H.—I don’t blame you a bit! Please know I’m not passing judgement. This is just trying to show how YOU can feel better about doing something good in a horrible situation. About taking the high road. It can change you and raise your self esteem. It’s about doing it for YOURSELF.

      Another argument we didn’t get from a panelist this time (we covered this many years ago) was, heck, if they’re mean to you, why NOT get them in trouble. Payback time! 

      Both reasons for telling will be esteem-raising for you. And as we always say over and over, tell confidentially if you’re worried! Make an anonymous phone call or anonymous email to the parents. Or beg their confidentiality. Or start with the school counselor and she/he will call the parents. There are many ways. I hope you have a change of heart… for YOURSELF.—Love, Lauren

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  5. By Marie, age 19, from Monterey Bay, California on 06/12/2015

    I totally understand what everyone is saying about not telling when you have been threatend with retaliation if you tell.  However, as a reformed “huffer” I really wish my sister had told my parents, even though I can’t really blame her since I threatened to get even if she told.  I started huffing nail polish when I was depressed when my boyfriend left me.  I did it in our room with the door locked and my mom didn’t suspect anything since I used nail polish and the smell was there anyway, but my sister knew.  Before he rejected me, my boyfriend also had abused me.  I could hide the bruises from my mom by avoiding her seeing me nude and she rarely saw me undressed anyway.  However, I couldn’t hide them from my sister since we shared a room and the bathroom so she saw me nude every day.  The huffing really started screwing up my brain and I had trouble thinking straight and knew it was going to ruin my plans to go to college, so I finally told my mom that I was addicted and needed help.  Even though I threatened my sister if she told, I wish she had and I think that I subconsciously wanted her to tell. 

    I realize that it is totally unfair to threaten someone if they tell and then expect them to tell anyway, so I don’t know a good answer to this issue.  I was able to kick the addition with help and am in college and am doing well.  I just regret ever doing it in the first place as well as not getting help sooner.


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  6. By Lizbeth, age 19, from Rohnert Park, California, United States on 06/14/2015

    I told our mom about my sister’s huffing and cutting, and I’m glad I did.  We had to share a room and did not get along at all.  However, we still were sisters so we didn’t have a problem with undressing and nudity in front of each other and I couldn’t help but see the cut marks, and she would also huff in our room right in front of me.  She said it was “her business” and I’d better not tell our mom.  Even though we didn’t get along, deep down I still loved and cared about her so I decided to tell our mom who made my sister get help.  Yes, she was mad at me at first and things were even more difficult at first especially since we had to live in the same room, but I know I did the right thing.  In the end after she recovered, she was grateful and we now have become close.  I’m now in college, but we still share a room when I come home and we now actually like being together in the same room.

    I now have similar concerns about my roommate, but I don’t know what if anything I can do.  She huffs and says it’s her way of dealing with stress.  When she’s nude,  I can also see that she’s getting thinner and thinner all the time.  It’s not so bad that I would call it anorexic yet but it looks like she’s headed that way.  Since she’s legally an adult and not even a family member, I don’t know what I can or should do.  I don’t even know her parents and even if I did I’m not sure it would be my place to tell them.  Other than this, she’s a very good roommate and we get along very well.  Even so, this still concerns me, but I don’t know what I can do.


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  7. By LAUREN, from on 06/17/2015

    Lizbeth—You’ve written an interesting letter, with success earlier in life around telling, even under threat, and now faced with it again, only now concerning a young adult. Here’s my thinking. Your college roommate is still an adolescent. We use the age 18 for legal autonomy from parents, but until age 25, the front brain isn’t fully formed. I am an advocate for stepping in with this age group. They often need help and straightening out. In your case, you could tell the head of the dorm, or the head of the wherever it is you are living and ask what their procedures are. If that only gets a shrug, or the procedures don’t amount to much, you could also contact her parents anonymously and tip them off.  Or contact them and beg for their confidence. Your roommate sounds to be in great danger if she is barely eating due to the ingestion of toxins.  I say, so what if she doesn’t like you for this. She should be taken out of school and brought home under loving supervision and therapy so she can get a fresh start before it’s too late. My guess is, she’s begging for you to tell as so many have reported. Please let us know what you end up doing.—Love, Lauren

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