Sibling Rivalries Can Harm Long-Term Mental Health
December 20, 2012

Study Says Sibling Rivalries Can Harm Long-Term Mental Health

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Those sibling rivalries around Christmas time may have deeper repercussions than just a sour mood researchers suggest. In a report recently published in the journal Child Development, researchers from the University of Missouri wrote that fights between siblings about simple things could lead to depression, anxiety and self-esteem issues.

Teen siblings fight about various issues, and many of their fights can be categorized as being about equality and fairness, or invasion of personal space. The latest study found that teens who fought with their siblings over equality and fairness faced more issues with depression a year later than those who reported harmonious sibling relationships. They also noted that teens who fought about issues relating to personal space were more anxious and had lower self-esteem a year later.

Additionally, they found that anxiety and self-esteem issues related to these fights appear to be more detrimental for some siblings than others.

Researchers also observed that teens who were more depressed and anxious tended to have more conflicts with their siblings a year later, while teens with more self-esteem had fewer conflicts.

They found that it was only the frequency of issues related to equality and fairness that predicted symptoms of depression, while both frequency and intensity over invasion of personal space were detrimental.

The team looked at 145 pairs of mostly European-American, middle-class siblings who had average ages of 12 and 15 for the younger and older siblings, respectively. The teens rated different topics that served as potential sources of conflict, noting how often the arguments occurred and how "hot" the discussions were.

The study also examined the ties between the arguments and of the self-reported rates of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem after a year.

"Our findings may help parents, psychologists, and others who work with and support teens to understand that all sibling conflicts are not created equally," Nicole Campione-Barr, assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, the study's lead author, said in a press release.

"It may be possible to avoid sibling conflicts by recognizing that adolescents desire more privacy as they strive for greater independence."

She added that structured tradeoffs in chore duties and equal times with shared household items give siblings fewer opportunities to compare themselves unfavorably to one another.

She said that "different conflicts influence teens' adjustment in different ways, and the content of conflicts must be studied together with the frequency and intensity of conflicts."

"These findings extend our knowledge of how the emotional adjustment of individual adolescents influences later sibling conflict and vice versa," Campione-Barr said in a press release.

Campione-Barr says that the next step in the research will be to examine the positive aspects of relationships among adolescent siblings and parents.

"Strong, healthy family relationships are immensely beneficial later in life," Campione-Barr said in the release. "For example, there are things people will tell their siblings that they would never tell their parents, or possibly even friends. We are currently studying disclosure and levels of trust among parents, siblings and peers."