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Little Brother Is Watching
Careful the things you say -
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do -
Children will see
And learn.
Children may not obey,
But children will listen...
Stephen Sondheim

It's been said before that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. However, what if the behavior in question really shouldn't be complimented? Children Are Innocent, but sometimes that Ambiguous Innocence leads them to copy behaviors from their role models that are less than ideal. While some, like the Card-Carrying Villain, may appreciate this, and others, like the Anti-Role Model, may not care, some others do care and don't necessarily like where it leads. Some Evil Parents Want Good Kids, after all.

It's one thing that they're being evil and damning their own souls. It's another when they're teaching children who look up to them to do the same. Realizing this, they may try to keep their bad behavior a secret from their children for a while. However, others take a different path. Realizing that their secret will inevitably come out, or perhaps simply unable to answer why they're doing something they don't want youngsters to ever learn to do, they perform a Heel-Face Turn. No more evil for him!

This trope doesn't just encompass evildoers, however. One of its most frequent uses in stories about drug use and quitting. The fundamental idea is that the parent, sibling, or role model does something that he doesn't want another to find out, not because it will ruin his life - most people probably already know - but because he doesn't want to influence the younger person to do the exact same thing. In order to make sure that doesn't happen - or sometimes upon discovery, although it's more often used as prevention - he quits the bad behavior.

Often, this is to avert Corrupt the Cutie.

Sub-Trope of Morality Pet. Parent trope to Not in Front of the Kid.

Not to be confused with Big Brother Is Watching, where the government makes sure you are responsible by being ready to punish any immoral acts.


Examples:

Advertising
  • There's an above the influence (anti-drug use) ad that provides a solid example of this trope: as an older sister lights up, the flame reflects in the eye of her younger brother, who is spying through the keyhole. The implication is that the girl should/will change her behavior, as she seems to notice her brother at the end of the ad.
  • About eleven years ago, there was an anti-marijuana PSA that played this trope. In it, a teenage basketball player's little brother watches him win a streetball game. After the game, the teen meets up with some friends and one (the token female in the group) offers him some pot with the PSA's voiceover saying, "Some people think smoking weed makes you cool." His little brother is then shown looking at him in awe, and the voiceover asks, "But what about those who think you already are?"
  • In an infamous anti-drug PSA a father is yelling at his son about the marijuana he found. "Where did you learn to do this stuff?" "From you, alright? I learned it by watching you!"

Anime and Manga
  • This trope is discussed more than anything in the Fishman Island arc of One Piece. A recurring theme throughout that arc is the Cycle of Revenge and central characters of the arc not wanting to pass their prejudices regarding humans on to the next generation, even when some of them could not let go of that hatred themselves. Arc villains the New Fishman Pirates are a case of Corruption of a Minor because that prejudice was passed down to them.
  • Lupin III: An indication of a Lighter and Softer storyline is the introduction of a child as the main character.
    • Lupin III (Green Jacket) has "Rescue the Tomboy", a story where Lupin steals a person from her uncle! Her father was in Lupin II's gang, and asked Lupin the Third to bring her back because her "uncle", the third man of their gang, is trying to blackmail him by threatening her life.
    • Lupin is known as a Handsome Lech, but for Clarisse's sake in The Castle of Cagliostro, he tries to be a Thief In A Stylin' Suit. When Lupin tells Jigen and Goemon about being "wild and crazy" in his past, their silence can suggest that Lupin may have been talking about last week. At the end of the movie, she hugs him tight and begs to become a thief and leave Cagliostro with him. Lupin visibly trembles before he pushes her away gently.
Film
  • In American History X, Edward Norton gets out of prison for murder and has to convince his little brother to stop imitating his white supremacist life style.
  • At the end of Angels with Dirty Faces, Jerry tells Rocky that the boys in Jerry's care look up to Rocky and stand a chance of becoming criminals themselves because they idolize Rocky so. When Rocky is finally taken to the electric chair, instead of acting tough like he bragged about, he screamed, cried, begged for his life and "died yellow". It's ambiguous whether he truly panicked or just acted that way to discourage the kids from thinking he was cool. (Perhaps a bit of column A, a bit of column B?)
  • In the film Boys Town Mickey Rooney plays the younger sibling; he idolizes his older brother, who is in prison for murder. Older brother contacts Father Flanagan, asking him to take in his little brother so he won't follow the same path.

Comics
  • In the "Mother Russia" arc of The Punisher MAX, Frank is trying to retrieve a young girl (around the same age as his daughter was) whose blood contains a biological superweapon that will eat her alive if he doesn't get her out of there. The Russians send a guy called the Mongolian, who kicks Frank's ass until he threatens the girl. Frank goes Papa Wolf, "twisting his leg off like a drumstick until I realize she's watching". Later on, he sees her pick up a gun to help him and immediately takes it from her so she won't shoot herself or someone.

Literature
  • In Little Lord Fauntleroy, the Earl of Dorincourt becomes less selfish and more considerate, because his grandson Cedric thinks about him as a kind-hearted, generous man and looks up to him, and the earl doesn't want to disappoint the boy.

Live-Action TV
  • A early Full House episode had Joey giving up on his comedy career only to find out that DJ has quit trying to play the guitar as a result. A few seasons later there was a similar episode. Jesse has quit going back to school so Michelle quits learning to tie her shoes.
  • Ian and Lip in the US version of Shameless make their little brother Carl wear earmuffs at night so they can talk about various illegal activities openly. However, Carl is naturally more sociopathic than either of his older brothers.

Music
  • The country song "Watching You" by Rodney Atkins is about a man who realizes that his four-year-old son is learning from him when he curses under his breath and then hears his boy immediately repeat it, saying he wants to be just like his dad. When they get home, the dad goes alone (or so he thinks) to the barn and prays, hoping that in the future he'll try to be a better example for his son. That night, at bedtime, the little boy prays before climbing into his bed, and says that he wants to be just like his dad.
  • The third verse of the song "Hero" by Superchic[k](it starts around 2:10) is about an older brother who makes some bad choices, unaware that his nine year old brother "who wants to be him" is following his example, and that his choices will change his little brother's life. Whether he tries to be a better example is left up to the listener.

Theatre
  • The song "Children Will Listen" from Into the Woods warns parents that children will copy their behavior.

Video Games
  • In Episode 8 of Asura's Wrath, after beating Kalrow's minions, Asura mercilessly beats on a surviving Doji, his Burst Gauge filling with every punch. But when he sees The Girl beating the corpse of another Doji with a rock and crying, his Burst gauge empties.

Web Comics
  • Weregeek: Brian and Alice and their kid will not spoil a good game:
    — Does this mean we'll have to watch our language and all that stuff?
    — Um. You've met Alice, right?
  • When Wigu and his father Quincy stumble upon a stash of illegal drugs, Quincy considers selling them and has a Good Angel, Bad Angel moment. The good angel wins out by showing him a vision of Quincy in jail and Wigu looking unhappy.

Western Animation
  • In Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, what finally persuades Mikey to clean up is Corey reaching for his box of drugs.
  • In the Arthur episode "The Last Tough Customer", Binky's former gang of bullies have decided to change their bullying ways, except for Molly, as she feels being a bully is her demand for respect. Seeing her little brother James start bullying other kids as well, and saying he got it from her changes her perspective, and realizes how not nice bullying really is.
  • King of the Hill: When Bobby was caught smoking, he was told his parents stopped smoking to avoid influencing him into smoking.
Kid Has a PointYoungstersLittle Professor Dialog
Kill Me Now or Forever Stay Your HandHeel Face IndexLove Redeems
Let Them DieMorality TropesMachiavelli Was Wrong
Lipstick and Load MontageJust for PunLittle Dead Riding Hood
Morality PetCharacters as DeviceNot in Front of the Kid

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