Older siblings who had positive relationships with their younger siblings have fewer depressive symptoms and engage in the lowest levels of risky behaviors, revealed a new study. Younger siblings who had a negative relationship with an older, opposite-sex sibling was found to have an increased sexual risk behavior.
Overall, the researchers observed that positive relationship with siblings improves mental health and lowers the risk of engaging in risky behaviors during adolescence, whereas siblings with negative relationships engaged in more risky behaviors. The findings of the study suggest that parents should encourage their children to spend time with their brothers and sisters, to be positive role models for their siblings and to take care of each other.
The research team used in-home interview data from a multi-year study of 246 Mexican-origin families living in the US. They studied pairs of siblings in which the siblings ages were around 12 and 15 years at the beginning of the study when researchers assessed the siblings' relationship qualities. The team examined how siblings' relationship qualities in adolescence were related to each sibling's depressive symptoms, risky behaviors and sexual risk behaviors five and eight years later.
Researchers Sarah Killoren, assistant professor of human development and family science at University of Missouri in the US, said, "Individuals learn how to interact with others based on the relationships they have with their siblings. Siblings who are hostile and negative with one another will use that interaction style with their peers. Most peers won't respond well to hostility and negativity so these youth may be more likely to hang out with a deviant peer group and, in turn, engage in risky behaviors."
Killoren further added, "By instilling values, parents can encourage positive sibling relationships that children will want to maintain throughout adulthood."
The study appeared in the International Journal of Behavioral Development.