How often have we come across instances where teachers or elders in the society have targeted the child’s parents for his/her bad behavior? It has become so common to put all the blame on the upbringing that no one has ever wondered whether there’s anyone other than parents who can influence a child’s behavior. Yes, some want the school or learning centers to share the blame but that’s where the blame game ends. From parents to schools, that’s it. No one has ever tried to go beyond these people and find out if the child’s behaviors good/bad are the result of the influence of any other people that the child spends time with. Well, some psychologists did the unthinkable and explored to see who can have an effect on child’s behavior except its parents and stunningly have found out that in most of the cases it’s the siblings that have an influence bigger than that of the parents as the child tends to spend most of its time with its siblings.
Yes, research has shown that siblings who are your first friends and obviously first enemies have a bigger role in shaping the future behavior of their younger ones than parents and other stake holders. Interestingly, researchers found that this is truer in cases where the family is psychologically and economically volatile. Though children hate to live with siblings, as they grow up they realize that it’s even harder to live without them and hence consciously or unconsciously pick up habits of their elder siblings be it good ones or the bad ones.
Professor of Family Studies at the University of Illinois, Laurie Kramer states that, as siblings are much closer to the social environment that children find themselves in, they are better role models to children when it comes to informal behaviors that fill up the everyday life of a child. Hence he says it is important not to overlook the impact siblings have on the growth of the children and how they end up.
Professor Kramer who is an expert on the subject had written a report for the Journal New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development. In her report, she reveals her findings that siblings do have an influence on the behavior of their younger ones and if the influence is positive the younger ones tend to benefit from it, but as in most cases, the impact has been negative which has worsened the lives of younger siblings.
She is of the view that ‘A female teen is at higher risk of getting pregnant if her older sister was a teenage mother’. Likewise, she also reports of how younger siblings pick up the bad habits of their older ones such as smoking, drinking, and other delinquent acts.
Patricia East, a developmental psychologist at OB-GYN clinic in California, discovered her life’s work at the clinic. She observed that the clinic would fill up with young pregnant adolescents on Thursday mornings when the clinic was reserved for pregnant teens. She also found out with the help of nurses and other staff that the younger sibling who accompanied her sister to the clinic with regards to pregnancy issues would in course of time visit the clinic as a pregnant teen.
This trend continued to surprise her and hence she decided to do a study. For her studies, she identified a large number of sister pairs where almost all pairs came from the same socio-economic background. By comparing them, East found out that older siblings do have an influence on their younger ones and pregnancy in an older sister did change the trajectory of the younger one.
She discovered, “a woman whose older sister got pregnant was five times more likely to get pregnant than the one who didn’t”.
Richard Rende, Professor of psychiatry at Brown University is conducting an extensive research in the field. He is of the opinion that, some of the new findings really challenge the idea that parents are the most important influence on children.
He elaborates on his statement by providing an example of influence on a child whose parent smokes and influence on a child whose sibling smokes. Obviously, he says, both do have an influence but studies show that an older sibling who smokes has a bigger influence on the teenage becoming a smoker than in the case where the parent is a smoker.
Rende says this influence is not limited to any class or section and can be seen right across all kinds of families be it rich, poor or middle class. But he says the power of influence grows in magnitude in a particular subset of families, families that are economically and psychologically volatile. As in such families, children spend most of their time with their elder siblings as parents aren’t around as much.
Rende through his studies found out that there is 25 percent chance that a younger sibling will turn out to be a smoker if his elder one smokes and surprisingly this percentage increases if it is about drinking. When it comes to drinking, the younger one is 36 percent more likely to develop a habit of drinking if his older sibling is a drunkard.
The academicians, including the ones mentioned in this article, believe that the reverse is also true. Studies have also found out that good behavior of the older sibling is as contagious as the bad ones. If an older sibling is a responsible one and has good behavior these behaviors tend to be followed by their younger ones. Hence, academicians are of the view that investing in older siblings (monetarily and otherwise) is of great importance to the parents as they have the powers to shape the future of their younger sibling due to something called as “Spillover effect”.