Interestingly, 'single' children who grew up in extended or joint families in rural areas said they never felt any different from those children with siblings, till they moved with their parents to cities for purposes of education and employment.
In the 1800s G. Stanley Hall, considered as the father of child psychology, dubbed being an only child, "a disease in itself." Ever since then, an only child has been stereotyped with unflattering tags such as
Though hundreds of research studies have shown that only children are no different from their peers, the question whether the single child syndrome is a myth or a reality continues to be debated world over.
It is generally assumed that parents lavish attention on their only child, which renders the child self-centered, highly dependent on parents and lacking discipline and inter-personal skills. Research however shows that 'onlies' become extremely independent and take on responsibilities very soon in life. They take on more than they can handle and rarely or never ask for help. Pleasing parents and devoting almost an entire lifetime trying to live up to expectations, is known to weigh them down heavily, but in most cases the expectations are usually theirs and not imposed.
The desire to succeed, mainly for self-fulfillment, is predominant in a single child. Studies also show that single children are rarely dreamy, like things straight forward, tend to get one thing done at a time and generally like their lives uncluttered—everything tied in neat parcels with no loose ends. A landmark 20-year study shows that an increased one-on-one parenting produces higher education levels and higher achievement motivation.
If the only child is a girl, she is weighed down by the responsibility of being the sole care-giver to aging parents and hesitates to move far away from them and have her own life. Many single daughters without siblings turn inward and suffer depression
If she chooses to marry, then again she becomes part of the 'sandwich generation'
—needed by husband, children and in-laws on the one side and aging parents on the other. The situation becomes challenging in Asian cultures where married women have to choose to be more committed to their in-laws than to their parents. Is the one-child family unit a healthy option?
Current lifestyles are redefining family norms and values while dictating newer choices in family type and size such as single parent families, homosexual parent families—the list gets updated ahead of family policy and government laws. Families are getting smaller and the only-child option is becoming the order of the day for a variety of reasons like economic restraints, easy manageability, increased infertility, death of a sibling or even the one-child policy legally encouraged in China.
Concurrently, Medindia's survey found that all those without siblings who participated in the survey were opposed to an only child option. In the US, only three percent of those polled by Gallup last year felt one child is ideal. Though the one-child family unit could place a lesser demand on the earth's fast -depleting reserves, the voice of the "onlies" advocating a more-than-one-child family unit needs to be acknowledged in order to promote a world that has an overall better emotional health.