Suzanne's Second Estate

A web log of my thoughts, activities, life....

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Science of Siblings

I just read a fascinating article in the July 10 issue of Time magazine called "The New Science of Siblings." The article, by Jeffrey Kluger, outlines how new research shows that your siblings are your greatest influences.

From the time they are born, our brothers and sisters are our collaborators and co-conspirators, our role models and cautionary tales. They are our scolds, protectors, goads, tormentors, playmates, counselors, sources of envy, objects of pride. They teach us how to resolve conflicts and how not to; how to conduct friendships and when to walk away from them. Sisters teach brothers about the mysteries of girls; brothers teach sisters about the puzzle of boys. Our spouses arrive comparatively late in our lives; our parents eventually leave us. Our siblings may be the only people we'll ever know who truly qualify as partners for life.

The article explored many avenues such as how siblings steer one another into or away from risky behavior, how they protect one another from family upheaval, how they educate each other on the opposite sex and how they come to terms with parental favoritism. Each of these interactions affects the kind of person a child will become.

Does the manager who runs a congenial office call on the peacemaking skills learned in the family playroom? Does the student struggling with a professor who plays favorites summon up the coping skills acquired from dealing with a sister who was Daddy's girl? Do husbands and wives benefit from the intergender negotiations they waged when their most important partners were their sisters and brothers?

It's looking like it. As I read this article, many of the ideas really rang true. My siblings definitely shaped me, and I know I had an influence on them (three of the four of us went to the same college!). A home school setting is a hot box for this kind of formation because siblings spend even more time together. I thought about how parental involvement could drastically alter how siblings affect one another. For example, my parents didn't allow name-calling. I believe this had a positive impact on our sibling relationships and bred respect for others.

A fact included in the article that surprised me was that favoritism by parents is pretty much a given. And that less-favored children are aware of the fact. The article gives the results of a 3-year study on favoritism conducted by family sociologist Katherine Conger of the University of California, Davis. Conger studied 384 adolescent sibling pairs and their interactions with their parents.

Overall, she concluded 65 percent of mothers and 70 percent of fathers exhibited a preference for one child-in most cases, the older one. What's more, the kids know what's going on. "They all say, 'Well, it makes sense that they would treat us differently, because he's older or we're a boy and a girl," Conger reports.

This gave me a lot of compassion for my younger siblings. I am an oldest child. So I only know what it feels like to be favored. I think my parents did a great job of making each of us feel special, but I did have a kind of advantage in being the oldest.

I also carried the burden of being a role model. The article stated, "On the whole, siblings pass on dangerous habits to one another in a depressingly predictable way. A girl with an older, pregnant teenage sister is four to six times as likely to become a teen mom herself.... The same pattern holds for substance abuse."

There was so much more good information in this article. You can find a shortened version online, but I recommend reading the whole thing. I found it enlightening in understanding who I am and who my siblings are. I also think it would be a great resource for parents.

I see such a wisdom inherent in the family structure, including siblings. God has created this special support system. And the fact that as Christians we are referred to as "brothers and sisters" may have deeper meaning than we suspected.


At 8:03 AM, Anonymous Danielle said...

That's very fascinating, Suzanne. That's sad about the favoritism, though. I think my parents did a great job on making us all feel special.


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