Long-term stress created by adolescent sibling rivalry


As sure as pretty holiday paper will be strewn across the floor, you can be sure the sibs will be bickering over sharing and turn-taking. What might seem innocent and ordinary, however, has long-term effects.

There are two types of sibling bickering that affect a youth’s emotional health. This is according to a study which shows that parents can bring peace to their homes and encourage healthy psychological development.

Personal space and property; equality and fairness

“Our results show that conflicts about violations of personal space and property are associated with greater anxiety and lower self-esteem one year later in life,” said Nicole Campione-Barr, MU assistant professor of psychological science in the College of Arts and Science. “Conflicts over issues of equality and fairness are correlated to greater depression one year later.”

The researchers studied the arguments of 145 pairs of siblings between 12 and 15 years old for one year. They noted the topics of the arguments as well as the frequency and intensity. They correlated that information to reports of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem after one year.

Parents may want to hang back, but need to set up ground rules

“Although parents may be inclined to step in as arbiters, previous research has found that parents’ interventions into adolescent sibling conflict can be detrimental,” said Campione-Barr.

“In concert with those prior findings, we believe our research suggests that setting household rules such as ‘knock before entering a sibling’s room,’ can be the best means for parents to resolve disputes and avoid appearing to play favorites... However, if a parent notes that one child consistently gets the short end of the stick, action should be taken to ensure one child isn’t being too subordinate. Also, if most sibling interactions become intense conflicts, a family should seek professional help, especially if violence is involved.”

Worth the effort; healthy families have strong bonds

“Strong healthy family relationships are immensely beneficial later in life. For example, there are things people will tell their siblings that they would never tell their parents, or possibly even friends. We are currently studying disclosure and levels of trust among parents, siblings, and peers.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, University of Missouri


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