I recently got a forwarded photo on one of the internet messaging services. For some people, it might not have raised any eyebrows. In my case, though, I found it very interesting.
It was an image of Luigi from the Super Mario Bros. video game that brought back memories from my childhood. You see, the caption on the image said it all…
Looking back at it now with a big smile on my face, I know it was unfair. Yet, it was the position you had to take as the younger brother in order to get to enjoy the game. If you wanted to use the Mario character, then you would have had to play the game on your own.
If you are an only child, you definitely missed out on your first orientation on small group relationships and behaviour. Those who come from large families understand the intricacies of navigating and jostling for attention and perceived rights within a small – and other times chaotic – environment.
There are a lot of considerations to be made depending on:
- birth order in the family
- birth spacing years between the kids
- the size of the family
- gender mix amongst the kids
- and any form of competition amongst the children.
It is all very interesting at the end of it all. Parental control and sibling dynamics determine how you turn out later in life. And therein lies the problem…
Family members are highly likely to tease each other on the decisions one makes. It is an enduring part of family life. However, there is an extreme form of sibling behaviour that destroys the bonds inherent in family life: bullying.
Anyone who has been bullied in school or in their neighbourhood will tell you it is a very unpleasant experience. Now imagine what the reaction is like when bullying occurs within a home; a place where you are supposed to be safe among your loved ones. How is that going to feel like?
The StopBullying website defines bullying as an “unwanted, aggressive behaviour among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” It adds that the “behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.”
Sibling bullying can take several forms:
- Verbal and emotional abuse
- Negative labelling
- Physical aggression and threats of violence
- Provoking arguments and manipulating family members through lies and playing the victim.
- Ganging up on one sibling all the time.
Link to Depression
A study conducted in September last year by researchers from the University of Oxford showed that any child who was bullied by their siblings was twice as likely to become depressed as an adult.
The study, which was conducted together with other universities including Warwick, Bristol, and the University College London, also showed that most of the victims of bullying even confessed to having engaged in self-harm practices.
According to the Pediatrics Journal where the study was published, the lead researcher, Dr. Lucy Bowes said, “If [bullying] occurred in a school setting there would be repercussions. We are not talking about the sort of teasing that often goes on within families, but incidents that occur several times a week, in which victims are ignored by their brothers or sisters, or are subjected to verbal or physical violence.”
Growing Up in Love
The result of this study shows parents something they would not expect to see from their own families. Every parent believes they have done their very best for their children. Therefore, to hear that one of your children was diagnosed as ‘clinically depressed’ (because you neglected to address some issues you noted as your kids were growing up) is truly sad.
Siblings must be watched carefully so that any rivalries, jealousy, and feelings of neglect are not expressed in form of bullying. Try to do the following things:
- Always defuse any situations that may lead to bullying
- Ensure you never take sides in any conflict.
- Help the siblings understand how their behaviour is affecting their relationships.
- Stamp out any petulant behaviour and tantrums (especially in the older children). Some children may damage another sibling’s items out of spite.
- Be an example of the proper way to love one another. How you interact with your own siblings can teach your children how they should behave.
Thinking back to your childhood memories, you can probably spot instances of bullying that you were not aware of. At least now, you have the knowledge and the experience and you can help chart a new course for the future of how your children relate to one another.
In my view, this new way of nipping sibling bullying before it becomes an issue will most likely reduce instances of depression among young adults in the future.