comScore Sibling Bullying Same Effects As Peer Bullying | The Mary Sue

Not Your Imagination: Your Siblings May Be Quite Literally Driving You Crazy

Common sense tells us "brothers fight," but a new study suggests scrapes and scuffles between siblings may have mental health consequences.


Boy Fights

Anyone with siblings — any number, younger or older, take your pick — has thought at some point that the person with whom they share parents (and toys and meals and sometimes, God forbid, a bedroom) is out to do nothing on this planet but drive you mad. It turns out, that might be closer to the truth than anyone is comfortable with. A recent study at the University of New Hampshire suggests that sibling-on-sibling violence can have the same detrimental effects on mental health as every day bullying. 

The University of New Hampshire study, published in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics, looked at data from nearly 3,600 youngsters, concentrating on factors like physical violence between siblings, psychological aggression, and property aggression, like stealing a siblings toys. The results showed, unsurprisingly, that adolescents (kids ten years and older) were less affected by sibling aggression than children between one month and nine years old. They also suggested, though, that this sort of oft-ignored aggression isn’t actually less severe than peer bullying. It was just different, but could ultimately result in the same mental health problems — like depression and harm to educational achievement — as peer bullying.

As someone reasonably familiar with sibling-on-sibling violence, it makes sense that a bully picking on you and your brother picking on you would be psychologically distinct, but equally severe. After all, your average brother is going to be born much better at picking on a sibling than most bullies ever could be.

My kid brother is a great guy, and I love him a lot. But the fact of the matter is we both bear real and lasting scars (yes, physical and emotional) from decades of growing up together. And while my parents generally managed to step in before anyone got grievously injured, anything short of powerbombs through a table (what can I say, we were a WWF-watching household) tended to be met with reactions that will be familiar to many – ” Brothers fight,” “Kids will be kids,” etc. No one was filming any Boyfights, but we, like many siblings, had a pretty long leash as far as wailing on one another was concerned, and like I imagine a lot of big brothers out there, I find myself entering my dotage wishing I been easier on my kid brother when we were growing up. (Graham, if you’re reading this, consider it a blanket apology for…oh, pretty much everything I did until you were 9 or so. Yes, even the stuff you totally had coming.)

The researchers behind the study hope that pediatricians will take their findings to heart and help the spread the word that while fighting between siblings may be more accepted — and let’s face it, unavoidable sometimes, like on long car rides — that doesn’t necessarily make it better.


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