Brotherly Love? Sibling Bullying Is Underestimated




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The day my second son was born, a nurse — who had raised two boys of her own — offered advice: “When they get upset with each other, let them fight it out. They won’t kill each other.” She also added: “Just make sure they fight outside, so they don’t get blood on your carpet.” Fights between siblings, even physically violent ones, are expected –- and accepted –- in society, but is this attitude appropriate and healthy? A new study reports that sibling bullying is under-recognized, and it can have serious adverse consequences for mental health and overall well-being.

Researchers from the University of New Hampshire interviewed nearly 3600 adolescents aged 10 to 17 years and caregivers of children aged 9 and under. The interviews were conducted as part of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, and the study, published online by the journal Pediatrics, is one of the first to use a nationally representative sample to address the occurrence and consequences of sibling bullying.

Each child in the study had at least one sibling under age 18 living at home. Participants were asked if the adolescent or child had been bullied –- defined as physical assault, property victimization, or psychological aggression –- by a sibling in the past year. They were also asked if the adolescent or child experienced anger, depression, or anxiety in the previous month.

In all, 8% of the adolescents and children experienced at least two types of bullying. Children who were even mildly physically assaulted had higher levels of mental distress than adolescents who were assaulted. Outcomes did not differ between groups for other types of bullying. Any type of sibling aggression predicted worse mental health.

Despite society-wide efforts to stop bullying at school and online, very little attention is paid to sibling relationships. A small survey of 27 sibling pairs reported that 78% of children reported being bullied by their siblings, and 85% reported being perpetrators of bullying at some point. Another study reported that as many as half of all siblings are bullied every month and up to 20% are bullied every week. Involvement in sibling bullying increased the risk of involvement in school bullying, and children involved in both school and sibling bullying were 14 times more likely to experience behavioral or emotional problems compared to those involved in bullying in one or no settings.

Those who love us the most can hurt us the most, and this is markedly true in relationships with siblings. Siblings will almost undoubtedly experience rivalry, jealousy, anger, and resentment at some point in their childhood and adolescence. But, these feelings should be managed by healthy communication and emotional outlets. Parents can promote and support positive sibling relationships, rather than tolerating violence or hostility that can lead to negative mental health consequences and decrease the well-being of children and the entire family.

According to the authors of the current study, parents should act as mediators in cases of sibling bullying, as well as teach and model constructive conflict resolution skills. So far, my boys haven’t spilled any blood on my carpet, or elsewhere. That I know of.

References

Ensor R, Marks A, Jacobs L, & Hughes C (2010). Trajectories of antisocial behaviour towards siblings predict antisocial behaviour towards peers. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, and allied disciplines, 51 (11), 1208-16 PMID: 20584100

Menesini E, Camodeca M, & Nocentini A (2010). Bullying among siblings: the role of personality and relational variables. The British journal of developmental psychology, 28 (Pt 4), 921-39 PMID: 21121475

Skinner JA, & Kowalski RM (2013). Profiles of sibling bullying. Journal of interpersonal violence, 28 (8), 1726-36 PMID: 23348680

Tucker CJ, Finkelhor D, Turner H, & Shattuck A (2013). Association of sibling aggression with child and adolescent mental health. Pediatrics, 132 (1), 79-84 PMID: 23776124

Wolke D, & Skew AJ (2012). Bullying among siblings. International journal of adolescent medicine and health, 24 (1), 17-25 PMID: 22909908

Image via pio3/Shutterstock.

  • http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-anti-bullying-critic Izzy Kalman

    DR. GIBSON:

    VERY GOOD POST. YOUR NURSE GAVE YOU GOOD ADVICE. THE REASON YOUR KIDS GOT ALONG SO WELL IS BECAUSE YOU DID NOT TRY TO STOP THEM FROM FIGHHTING. UNFORTUNATELY, NOW THAT SIBLING RIVALRY IS BEING CALLED SIBLING BULLYING, PARENTS ARE BEING PRESSURED TO GET INVOLVED TO STOP THEIR KIDS FROM FIGHTING. THIS WILL UNWITTINGLY LEAD TO GREATER SIBLING FIGHTING. THE RESEARCH STUDY YOU CITED FOUND THAT SIBLING BULLYING IS VERY COMMON. HOWEVER, IT DOESN’T EXPLAIN WHY SIBLING BULLYING IS SUCH A SERIOUS PROBLEM. THE REASON IS THAT MOST PARENTS DON’T DO WHAT YOUR NURSE RECOMMENDED. AND THE REASON BULLYING IN SCHOOLS IS BECOMING A MORE SERIOUS PROBLEM IS THAT SCHOOLS ARE BEING REQUIRED TO INTERVENE, CONTRARY TO THE ADVICE OF YOUR NURSE.

    I HAVE WRITTEN A COUPLE OF ARTICLES DEALING WITH THIS NEW SIBLING BULLYING RESEARCH. I THINK YOU MAY FIND THEM OF INTEREST:

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psychological-solution-bullying/201307/sibling-bullying-research-can-destroy-anti-bullying-move

    http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/psychological-solution-bullying/201308/the-myth-the-normal-sibling-rivalry

    BEST WISHES,
    IZZY KALMAN
    THE ANTI-BULLYING CRITIC

    • Patricia

      I totaly disageree with Izzy Kalman’s assesment. I was a victim of an older sibbling’s bullying for years. No it did not “kill” me, (which I would have preferred) Instead I have suffered from PTSD and depression all my life as a result. For me the worst part was that my parents refused to intervene in any way, leaving me a hapless victim of physical and mental abuse. This did an enormous amount of damage over time.If my parents (or anyone else for that matter)had been in the habit of pushing me, hitting me, pinning me down, yelling and screaming at me they would of been accused of bullying and abuse. However because this was my sibling it was considered “normal” behavior. How absurd! Sibling rivalry is normal and to be expected, but physical and mental abuse perpetrated by anyone is and should be taught as unacceptable./ Anyone who would say otherwise has obviously not been a victim them selves. I am most grateful for articles like these that bring attention to the problem.

  • http://lifecellwrinklecreamreviewsite.com/ Leah

    I can only speak from my own experience but I know that me and my sisters used to fight quite a bit, both verbally and a little physical. Being the younger of the two I usually lost but I know that it helped bring us closer together in the long run, and it also helped me build mental strength and a resolve to never quit. This has helped me in many areas of my life.

    However, I also understand that there are a lot of variables here, and I would NEVER promote bullying or physical violence. I also know that what motivates some to succeed would also demotivate others.

  • http://eliminatesnoring.org/ Jack Rollins

    I think this is a case by case sort of thing. Physical violence should never be encouraged, but verbal abuse is almost inevitable. I don’t believe there should be extra concern unless it’s an extreme case where a sibling wants the other dead.

  • http://www.supplementadvisor.org Terry Shaw

    I agree with this article. Sibling bullying is often underestimated by parents. Most of the them thought that it was just normal for the kids to have rivalries that results to physical fights.

  • phyllis

    to allow an older sibling to bully the others is inexcusable, it says everything about the parents, they are either bullies themselvs or victims who do not know how to be otherwise, bullying starts at home, & it’s way to common.

  • Pingback: Bully for You! The (In)effectiveness of Anti-Bullying Programs | Brain Blogger()

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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