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Sibling Bullying Should Be Taken More Seriously, Study Finds

Parents and educators, take note. Aggression among children who live together may lead to more serious consequences than you think, a study finds.

Pediatrics published the study online Monday.
Pediatrics published the study online Monday.

A Catonsville child psychiatrist says a study showing that aggression even among young siblings may lead to serious mental health issues makes sense because bullying can be damaging to victims no matter who does it.

A study published this week in Pediatrics found that “the possible importance of sibling aggression for children’s and adolescents’ mental health should not be dismissed,” and efforts against bullying should include sibling, not just peer, aggression.

“It really doesn’t matter who’s doing the bullying,” says child psychiatrist Allen Kleinberg, M.D., of Catonsville. “What really matters is the person who’s being bullied feels like they’re losing control and the bullier is really trying to take control. Bullying to me is all about power and control and the difference between horseplay and bullying.”

As part of The National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence, the researchers analyzed telephone interviews of 3,599 children ages 0 to 17 who experienced sibling aggression — which includes psychological, property, mild or severe physical assault — in the past year. Each child had at least one sibling under 18 who was living at home.

“There is a natural emotional intensity to sibling relationships,” lead author Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire, told LiveScience. "There is a lot of love, but also the potential for a lot of conflicts."

The study found that children “showed greater mental health distress” than adolescents in the case of mild physical assault, while there was no difference for the other types of sibling aggression. Mental distress can lead to “anger, depression and anxiety in the child who is being targeted,” according to the report.

Because adults often downplay sibling aggression, it is “under-recognized and under-estimated,” Tucker told LiveScience.

“I think it’s very helpful for parents to keep their eyes open to what’s going on with what’s going on with their kids,” Kleinberg said. “What they might think of as normal sibling rivalry can sometimes be unhealthy.”

View the study’s abstract on Pediatrics and the LiveScience article for more information.
Sanchez June 18, 2013 at 11:24 AM
Some amount of bullying CAN build character, confidence and self control in the bullied. Nothing feels better than standing up to a bully and seeing the bully back down. That can be an experience that leads to less bullying.
Sonia Su June 18, 2013 at 11:36 AM
Good point, Sanchez. But isn't it hard to draw the line between character-building bullying and something more serious?
Sanchez June 18, 2013 at 11:45 AM
Many lines in life are hard to draw no? I was always the shortest kid and bullied for that in school. I stood up to every one any way I could and the bullies seemed to lose interest and stopped. Getting bullied is a part of growing up and kids must learn to deal with it or become wimps the rest of their lives.
Sonia Su June 18, 2013 at 11:52 AM
True. Thank you for sharing!
Janet Metzner June 18, 2013 at 02:34 PM
@Sanchez, are you saying bullying is necessary? It's the only way to build character? Or is it easier to build character without that aggravation?
Sanchez June 18, 2013 at 04:15 PM
Oh heavens no Janet! Self esteem and character are built not born with you. Bullying, adversity and accomplishment build self esteem and character. A bullied kid can feel as big as the world when facing down a bully. That will make it harder for others to bully. Bullies only do so if they get the reactions they desire. Standing up to them is not one of those actions. Being bullied and learning to deal with it is just like learning to deal with failure. Learn to deal with it or face more personal issues as you grow up.
Caitlin Mills June 19, 2013 at 09:41 AM
Linda Lombardo just discussed this topic yesterday morning on FOX. She is Executive Director at Lighthouse, the youth and family services cetner in Catonsville. She has some great points about when to draw the line with sibling aggression - http://www.foxbaltimore.com/news/features/morning/stories/vid_512.shtml#.UcG0B_m3_RM
Sonia Su June 20, 2013 at 05:54 PM
Thank you, Caitlin!

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