Parents spend a lot of time dealing with arguing and other nastiness between siblings. But having siblings can save teenagers from negative emotions, and encourage them to be more kind and generous.
“As a parent, it’s really good to know that sibling affection is related quite strongly to helping, generosity, kindness,” says Laura Padilla-Walker, a professor at Brigham Young University who studies the effects of sibling relationships. “We often don’t see them [as] a protective factor.”
Padilla-Walker studied 395 families that had at least one child between the ages of 10 and 14, interviewing family members twice, one year apart. The study, which was published in the August issue of the Journal of Family Psychology, found that having an affectionate teenage sibling helped younger teens avoid feelings of loneliness, guilt, and self-consciousness. The results were adjusted to remove the effects of parental influence.
Having an affectionate sibling can also help teenagers better understand the effects of their own behavior, and how it affects others. It can also foster a sense of shared responsibility in the family, as siblings can come together to help each other when needed. Furthermore, siblings can help teenagers become more resilient in the face of difficult moments. When life throws unexpected challenges their way, the presence of a close sibling can make it easier to stay calm and focused.
Sisters were more likely to have a positive influence than brothers, perhaps because they tend to talk more than boys do. “Sisters seem to be uniquely powerful,” Padilla-Walker says. “It could be that sisters act as a sounding board at a time when adolescents don’t talk with their parents.”
Parents can encourage that kind of supportive relationship by fostering loving, generous behaviour in childhood, Padilla-Walker says. Previous research has shown that hostile relationships between siblings correlate with delinquency, so parents need to make it clear that hostility won’t be tolerated.
What about only children? “We have some stereotypes about only children, that they’re selfish,” Padilla-Walker says, “but there’s very little research to support that.” Parents who want their onlies to have the supportive benefits of a loving sister should make sure their child has lots of interaction with friends and peers, she says, so they have many chances to practice their social skills. Power up those playdates.
Padilla-Walker emphasizes that only children can be just as successful and socially adept as those with siblings. “We know that parents play a huge role in helping children develop social skills, and only children can benefit from that same attention,” she says. Parents should also encourage their only child to pursue activities and hobbies outside of the home, as this allows them to interact with their peers and build relationships. Additionally, giving children the opportunity to lead and make decisions on their own can help them develop leadership skills and become more independent.
In summary, having an affectionate teenage sibling can have a positive impact on adolescent wellbeing. It can help teens better understand themselves and their relationships, foster resilience in difficult moments, and encourage them to be kind and generous. As parents, it’s important to recognize the positive effects of siblings and encourage healthy sibling relationships.