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Oh, how the world changed when his parents went out, leaving him in the hands of his big brother. "That was always a great opportunity for him to have fun, typically at my expense," he recalls. While he could stay up late and watch shows like Gunsmoke, those privileges came at a price. His brother spoon-fed him putrid concoctions from the fridge, once shocked him with a live wire, and another time wrapped him head to toe like a mummy, so that only his nostrils peeked out. "I didn't ever suffer permanent injury," he says, laughing. "Except maybe to my mind."
Ah, siblings: both a blessing and a curse. Approximately 80 percent of Americans have at least one brother or sister; in fact, kids today are more likely to grow up with a sibling than a father, experts say. What's more, the sibling relationship is the longest relationship that most people will have in their lives. Yet brothers and sisters have gotten short shrift in the research about what affects who we are and how we behave, experts say. They've been "amazingly neglected," says Judith Dunn, a professor of developmental psychology at King's College London.
Not least among those now paying attention are psychoanalysts, whose principal preoccupation has traditionally--and with good reason--been the powerful influence of parents. Many psychoanalysts now concede that people can be shaped as much or more by their siblings, says Jonah Schein, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the
"My brother certainly did have a big impact on my life," says
They may buffer stress
Warm sibling relationships can be protective, says Dunn, and seem to buffer kids against stressful events, like parents' separation.
They provide good practice
Research has clocked the rate of sibling squabbles at anywhere between six to 10 disputes per hour for certain childhood age groups, says Kramer. While these conflicts can be a headache for parents, they can help kids make developmental strides in a "safe relationship" and provide good training for interacting with peers, says Kramer. "You know there's nothing really that you can do to make this [other] child terminate the relationship." No matter what, he'll be there tomorrow at the breakfast table. That safety enables siblings to practice behaving in ways they aren't able to with other people. Sibling spats help kids learn what they think is right; to negotiate and compromise; and to tolerate the negative emotions that crop up in life. "This is the bright side," Kramer says. "Obviously, there's an unpleasant side as well."
She adds, "Some evidence suggests that when kids have good relationships with siblings, they're more likely to develop good relationships with their peers." But we're still learning about that, she says.
They may help raise our vulnerability to mental-health issues
Sibling strife during mid-childhood is a predictor of increased anxiety, depression, and delinquent behavior in adolescence, the
They can grease a slide into bad behavior
Drinking. Smoking. Delinquency
Some research suggests that siblings' bad habits rub off. "If you have a sibling who is participating in those types of activities, then you're at higher risk for participating yourself," says Katherine Jewsbury Conger, an associate professor of human development and family studies at the
They may inspire us to be different from them
Accumulating evidence suggests that while some kids strive to be like their siblings, others do the opposite. She's the pretty one, I'll be the smart one. He's the jock, I'll be the scholar. Mark Feinberg, senior research associate at
They may make us more jealous of romantic partners
Early sibling jealousy may be a precursor to later romantic jealousy, says Amy Rauer, an assistant professor at
Or they may give a boost to our love life
"Children who grow up with an opposite-sex sibling can be incredibly advantaged," says Susan McHale, a professor
of human development at