Don't Steal Your Sister's Stuff, And Other Sibling Wisdom


A new study shows that adolescent siblings who respect each other’s boundaries have a better relationship. While this isn’t too earth-shattering, it’s interesting that scientists are looking at sibling-relationship quality at all.

According to a study by researchers at the University of Missouri, conflicts over personal space are the most damaging to teen sibling relationships. Such conflicts, explains study author Nicole Campione-Barr, include “borrowing items without asking and hanging around when older siblings have friends over,” and can damaged siblings “trust in syndication.” Less damaging, interestingly enough, are conflicts over “equality and fairness,” like whose turn it is to sit in the front seat or wash the dishes.

The latter makes a certain amount of sense — as anyone who grew up with a sibling knows, nothing is ever fair. Older siblings get to stay up later, but then younger siblings get laxer rules when parents get sick of enforcement. Older siblings get to go to R-rated movies, but younger siblings get to eat the last of the ice cream, and you have to be nice to them because they’re the youngest. These residual feelings of unfairness can last into adulthood — just last night, I caught myself telling a friend, “I can’t imagine what a younger sibling would ever have to complain about.” And yet, this constant sense of inequality is also something regrow except, something that may help teach us about a larger injustices of life. I don’t really resent my brother for always getting sympathy because he was littler — that’s just kind of how it was.

He and I may be lucky in that we didn’t really want to invade each other’s space growing up — when he was ten, my brother certainly didn’t want any teenage-girl shit. But I can understand how constant sweater-stealing (an example that happens to be in the title of the paper) might undermine trust at a time when teenagers are struggling to establish their own identities while still living with their families. What’s really interesting about the research in a larger sense is that it attempts to evaluate sibling relationships, which seem to get a lot less attention than the bonds between partners or between parent and child. We talk a lot about what makes a healthy romantic relationship, and about how your mom and dad can fuck you up, but not so much about the connections between brothers and sisters, who at least as children often have an almost built-in level of conflict. But sibling relationships can shape us far beyond childhood, and perhaps more research should examine sweater-stealing an ice-cream-sharing and the other joys and pains of brother-and-sisterhood. Campione-Barr does note that “when sibling conflicts occur, there needs to be negotiations between siblings. Previous research tells us that parents should step aside because they have a tendency to make matters worse.” So maybe what I assumed was laziness on my parents’ part — “you kids work it out on your own!” — was actually wisdom.

Sibling Conflicts Undermine Trust [LiveScience]

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