Bullying is bullying, whether it occurs in the lunch room at school or the living room at home. A study from the University of New Hampshire looks at sibling bullying:
Parents and others often minimize the frequency and severity of aggressive behavior among siblings. Such a response reflects the historical acceptance by researchers and the general public of sibling aggression as benign and normal and even beneficial for their children’s social development and their ability to handle aggression in other relationships. As such, sibling aggression remains an unrecognized form of violence, even though similar aggressive behavior among peers is perceived as problematic.
Alexandra Sifferlin has the not-so-surprising results:
The new study, published in the journal Pediatrics, involved thousands of children and adolescents throughout the U.S. and found that those who were physically assaulted, had their toys stolen or broken or endured emotional abuse that made them feel frightened or unwanted by their sibling had higher levels of depression, anger and anxiety than those without these experiences. About one-third of the kids had been targeted by their siblings for physical and verbal abuse, and overall, these children later showed more mental-health symptoms than those who weren’t subject to bullying.
Melissa Dahl provides insight:
John Caffaro, a psychologist in private practice in Del Mar, Calif., a San Diego suburb, says one of the biggest red flags signaling sibling bullying is this: One child is always the aggressor, and another child is always the victim. Parents should also look for signs of aggression that aims to leave the other child feeling humiliated or defeated.
Moving forward, Tucker hopes some of the many anti-bullying programs that exist today will begin to include a focus on sibling aggression.
Children who were bullied by a sibling, but not at school, fared a little better than the children for whom the opposite was true, the study showed. Still, the emotional impact of being bullied in your own home, by a brother or sister you trust or look up to, isn’t easily dismissed.
“Think about it: You may be sharing a room with your worst enemy. That’s much worse than meeting this bully once a week at school,” says Caffaro, who has written several books on sibling abuse, including “Sibling Abuse Trauma,” which will be published this fall. “Also, this brother or sister knows you better than anyone else, so they know how to get to you quickly.”
The authors of the study want to get the word out:
Taken together, our study shows that sibling aggression is not benign for children and adolescents, regardless of how severe or frequent. An implication of our work is that parents, pedia- tricians, and the public should treat sibling aggression as potentially harmful and something not to be dismissed as normal, minor, or even beneficial.
Parents and children should understand and agree that any hurtful behavior — verbal, physical, psychological — is simply unacceptable, for any human being, and should NEVER be tolerated. The next study should examine the mental health effects of bullies themselves. I’d bet the results will be as ugly as the bumper sticker: “Mean People Suck.”
More on bullying on The PediaBlog here.
(Image: David Castillo Domenici/freedigitalphotos.net)