Clashes with brothers and sisters have been found to lead to poorer mental health in pre-teen and teen-aged kids, according to a study by researchers at University of New Hampshire. Such sibling aggression was even found to have an effect equal to that of bullying by peers, otherwise a subject of much attention from experts and authorities.
The study published in the July 2013 issue of the journal Pediatrics had as its lead author, Corinna Jenkins Tucker, associate professor of family studies at the university. She said, “Even kids who reported just one instance had more mental health distress, our study shows that sibling aggression is not benign for children and adolescents, regardless of how severe or frequent.”
The researchers looked a US-wide sample of 3,599 children, aged one month through 17 and looked at the effects of physical assault with and without a weapon or injury, property aggression like stealing something or breaking a siblings’ things on purpose, and psychological aggression such as saying things that made a sibling feel bad, scared, or not wanted around.
The findings showed that 32 percent of the children who reported experiencing one type of sibling victimization in the past year showed signs of mental health distress. They were greater for children [1 month to age 9] than for adolescents [age 10 – 17] who experienced mild sibling physical assault, but children and adolescents were similarly affected by other psychological or property aggression from siblings.
What this means for Tucker is that parents and caregivers should take sibling aggression seriously. “If siblings hit each other, there’s a much different reaction than if that happened between peers,” she says. “It’s often dismissed, seen as something that’s normal or harmless.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.