Siblings shape our social and emotional development more than parents, says an expert.
Laurie Kramer, professor of applied family studies at the University of Illinois (U-I), says that although a parent’s influence on a child’s development shouldn’t be underestimated, neither should a sibling’s.
“What we learn from our parents may overlap quite a bit with what we learn from our siblings, but there may be some areas in which they differ significantly,” Kramer said.
Parents are better at teaching the social niceties of more formal settings - how to act in public, how not to embarrass oneself at the dinner table, for example.
But siblings are better role models of the more informal behaviours - how to act at school or on the street, or, most important, how to act cool around friends - that constitute the bulk of a child’s everyday experiences.
“Siblings are closer to the social environments that children find themselves in during the majority of their day, which is why it’s important not to overlook the contributions that they make on who we end up being,” Kramer said.
Kramer, who with Katherine J. Conger, University of California at Davis, co-edited a volume on this topic, says a clearer understanding of how siblings function as “agents of socialisation” will help answer why some children pursue anti-social behaviour.
“We know that having a positive relationship with siblings is related to a whole host of better outcomes for teenagers and adults,” Kramer said.
“A lot of current research looks at how children learn undesirable behaviours like smoking, drinking and other delinquent acts, from exposure to an older sibling’s anti-social behaviours as well as that of their sibling’s friends,” Kramer said, according to a university release.
“For example, a female teen is at higher risk for getting pregnant if her older sister was a teenage mother. Developing a better understanding of sibling influences can help us design effective strategies for protecting younger children in families.”
These findings were published in New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development.