Follow TV Tropes


Little Brother Is Watching

Go To

"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..."
The Witch, Into the Woods

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 can and does encompass more mundane behaviors as well (e.g. drug use). 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.


    open/close all folders 

  • 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.
  • A print Above the Influence ad showed an older boy and a younger boy on either side of the page. Various opinions, such as "I think cartoons are for kids" were printed over the older boy and then immediately repeated over the younger one. The last was "I don't smoke weed, it's not my thing."
  • 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 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 & Manga 
  • Doraemon: In "Soap Bubbles", Toby thinks he's a horrible person for smoking and he hopes Noby never smokes as an adult.
  • Lupin III: An indication of a Lighter and Softer storyline is the introduction of a child as the main character.
    • Lupin III: Part 1 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.
  • 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.
  • Tiger Mask makes a Heel–Face Turn, for good, when he is approached by a fan who says he wants to grow up to become a villain.

    Comic Books 
  • 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.

    Fan Works 
  • Down And Out both plays it straight and averts it.
    • Played straight with Grace with the Apex, with the young woman going out of her way to make sure none of the remaining Apex children are aware that she is keeping Simon prisoner, only visiting him when they leave to explore nearby cars or are sleeping. Becomes a moot point once all the Apex children successfully leave the train.
    • Averted with Amelia and Hazel, with the former not caring at all what behavior seven-year-old Hazel witnesses from her, while Hazel has become too jaded from her time with Grace and Simon months prior to view anyone as a good role model, clinging to the lessons taught by her murdered mother figure Tuba instead.
  • The Weedverse: In Foalsitting Follies, Radiance beats up Nuance, constantly accusing him of being a Spoiled Brat who "doesn't get punished enough!" It turns out Radiance acts this way because he's spent a lot of time watching the Royal Guard train.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In American History X, Derek Vinyard gets out of prison for murder and has to convince his little brother Danny to stop imitating his white supremacist life style, which Derek has since renounced.
  • 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?) Jerry, who became a priest instead of a crook like Rocky, then asks the boys to pray for the soul of a little boy who couldn't run as fast.
  • Boy: A pretty scummy con artist couple routinely run a Staged Pedestrian Accident in which they have their older son, a 10-year-old, step in front of cars to fake accidents. One day the younger son, a toddler, does what he's seen his older brother do so many times, and steps in front of a car. The motorist swerves to avoid him and is killed.
  • 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.
  • Near the end of The Emperor's Club, Sedgwick tells Mr. Hundert that principles mean nothing and that he will be as unethical as necessary to succeed in the world - only to see his young son standing nearby, who heard everything.

  • In the PT Deutermann Military Academy crime thriller Darkside, US Naval Academy security chief Jim Hall states "The Midshipmen are always watching!", implying that if the Academy's senior leadership preaches about honor, morality and integrity, but doesn't practice those values themselves due to careerism, the midshipmen (naval cadets) will learn to do the same and lose respect for Navy leadership.
  • 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.
  • Sam Vimes' own past self basically fills this role in Night Watch. The "present" Vimes is stuck in the past playing the role of his own mentor, John Keel, and knows that his younger self needs a swift crash course in being lawful and good to get him to Guards! Guards! with his morals more-or-less intact. On three separate occasions (only two of which young Sam is actually there for), he takes the heroic / risky approach over the fast and brutal one because of this.
  • Roys Bedoys: An example involving an actual little brother occurs in “Don’t Say Bad Words, Roys Bedoys!”, when Roys instantly changes his mind about swearing when Loys learns a swear word from him.

    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.
  • Scrubs has J.D. parody the anti-marijuana PSA mentioned above in his head with himself being a caffeine-addict finding a coffee-machine in his son's room.
    J.D.: (sniffs) At least he's using good beans...
  • Ian and Lip in the US version of Shameless (US) 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Invoked in BioWare games. There's often one party member that's almost always female and younger than the Player Character (Mission Vao, Wild Flower, Merrill, Nadia, Mako, Ashara) , and they're often naive and good-natured, approving of charitable or kind actions. While you can do evil actions while they're in the party, their reaction to cruel actions is tailored toward What the Hell, Player?
  • Daughter of the late Empress and implied daughter of Corvo, Emily Kaldwin plays this trope as a part of the Karma System in Dishonored. After rescuing her fairly early, members of the resistance begin taking care of her while Corvo (you) are on assassination and abduction missions. Killing on your part encourage the girl's drawings to go from a tad Creepy Cute to trading her naive charms entirely for something colder and darker, ultimately turning her into a tyrannical Empress who cares only for her protector.

    Web Comics 
  • Weregeek: Brian and Alice and their kid will not spoil a good game:
    Mark: Does this mean we'll have to watch our language and all that stuff?
    Dustin: Um. You've met Alice, right?
  • Wigu: 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 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.
  • In Cartoon All-Stars to the Rescue, what finally persuades Mikey to clean up is Corey reaching for his box of drugs.
  • On Franklin in "Franklin's Word," Franklin's thoughtless use of the word "stupid" causes his little sister, Harriet, to start doing it as well. This causes him to realize that his little sister really does see him as a role model and he resolves to start being more thoughtful in his words and behavior when she's around.
  • King of the Hill: When Bobby was caught smoking, he was told his parents stopped smoking to avoid influencing him into smoking.
  • In Leap Frog: A Tad of Christmas Cheer, after Tad wishes a world in which he never existed and nobody knows him, he discovers that his older brother Leap is now a wimp and his brother and friends are now ruled over by the bully Parker Pig. It turns out that Leap became who he was because Tad looked up to him and so he stood up to him. When Tad shows up in the new reality, his presence briefly inspires Leap to stand up to Parker again, but then he tells Tad to leave because he doesn't know him and therefore can't keep standing up for him.
  • The Loud House: When the baby of the family, Lily, hears her older siblings say the word "Damn it!" in the episode "Potty Mouth", she also starts saying that, to their horror. Subverted as it turns out she was actually trying to say "donut"... but then double-subverted when the family dog Charles steals her donut and she lets out an actual swear word that's censored.
  • OK Ko Lets Be Heroes: In "Radical Rescue", Rad realizes his macho posturing in front of his old school friends Bell Beefer and Mega Football Baby is having a bad influence on K.O. when K.O. starts calling the things he likes "lame". Rad decides he's had enough of hiding his sensitive side and, after a heartfelt talk with K.O., calls his old friends out.


Video Example(s):


Franklin's Word

In "Franklin's Word" from "Franklin," Franklin's little sister Harriet has been imitating him by using the innocent swearing word "stupid." Despite his best efforts, the word slips out in front of his parents and he fesses up that she learned it from him. They explain that little kids like Harriet are fascinated by new words and the best thing is to ignore it, that she really just wants to spend time with her big brother. When she starts to talk about him, he prepares himself for the worst, but she declares him to be the "bestest big brother." He resolves that if he's going to be setting an example for Harriet, he wants it to be a good one.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / LittleBrotherIsWatching

Media sources: