17 Year-Old Brother Too Immature for the Adult World

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Reader’s Question

I have a 17-year old brother (the only son in family) who doesn’t act like a 17-year old teenager. He behaves more like a child of half his age. Our father passed away 5 years ago and our mother doesn’t pay enough attention to his problems. All of us, the other siblings, are staying far away from home. He has constantly been bullied in school. My main concern is that he doesn’t have the surviving skills to take care of himself when he’s alone later in his life.

In your opinion, what type of condition is he in? What are the steps that we should take to help him?

Thank you very much.

Psychologist’s Reply

It’s very likely that when your father died five years ago, your brother (approximately 12 at the time) emotionally regressed to a younger level of social and emotional maturity. This is not uncommon in the death of a parent. In your brother’s case, he has remained at this regressed level of social and emotional maturity. As you suspect, he is now probably ill-equipped to deal with life in the independent adult world and is probably fearful of leaving home. In school, his lack of self-confidence will make him an easy target for bullies.

When this happens to a 17-year-old, we often first consider counseling to rebuild his self-esteem and look for mental health issues that are often found in these situations such as moderate yet chronic depression. As he nears leaving home and/or school, you are correct that survival or adults skills may be weak. To correct this situation we often “transition” into the community — not “dump” or throw him into the adult world. As an example, for shy or socially weak high school students, it’s often necessary that they attend a local college or training program, allowing them to remain at home while slowing moving into the adult world. These are not teenagers that you send to college far away from home. When it comes to employment, it’s often helpful to get that first job with a mentor or adult role model. If he’s willing to participate, relatives can also provide some training opportunities, helping him develop skills he will need as an adult. These might include cooking, driving distances, making appointments, errands, etc.

I don’t have enough information to suggest a psychiatric diagnosis but I suspect this is more of a family experience than a psychiatric illness or disorder. With the help of his siblings and relatives, perhaps each helping him with a different area of his life, your brother can slowly move into adulthood.

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