By Sara Rogers
Senior Cort Post is very familiar with the impact of having siblings, especially sisters. Post, who has six siblings, including a twin sister and two other sisters, said his female siblings have “definitely hanged his perspective on certain issues and challenges.”
“My sisters have really made me a softer person,” Post said. “They look at things in a different way than I do, which has made me more open.”
According to a 2010 study conducted by the Flourishing Families Project at Brigham Young University (BYU), Post’s situation is not unique. After following 395 multiple-child families, each with at least one female child, researchers found that having a sister significantly decreased the likelihood of the other sibling or siblings “feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful.”
“We found that siblings were related to being more pro-social, meaning helpful, and less depressed and less likely to be delinquent,” Laura Padilla-Walker, family life and human development professor at BYU and lead author of the study, said.
While the BYU study only focused on “early adolescents,” or children 10 to 14 years old, she said the findings could also apply to teenagers. “The current study focuses only on early adolescents,” she said,” but we could certainly speculate that these would apply to older teens as well.”
According to Padilla-Walker’s results, growing up with a sister “was a protection against internalizing behaviors, perhaps because of higher levels of communication and/or care giving by sisters.”
These findings, which indicate a strong tie between relationships with one’s siblings and overall behavior, may help adapt future parenting programs as well as sibling and family counseling. Current prevention or intervention programs for adolescents focus on the parent-child relationship, according to Padilla-Walker. Based on the observations, however, addressing problematic sibling relationships may prove more effective in counseling.
Robin Pletcher, psychology and K-8 mentoring teacher, said she can see the validity of the findings. “In the (K-8) mentoring program, we have juniors and seniors who are paired with an elementary or middle school student to give them that older-sibling-type person that they can meet with and have influence their life aside from a parent,” she said. “For me, I have one sister who is two years older than me. (Growing up) there was definitely that looking out for and kind of protecting measure.”
A similar study by the British Psychological Society found that out of 571 randomly selected citizens 17 to 25 years in age, those who grew up with sisters were “more likely to be happy and balanced.”
Post said he agrees with the results. “My brothers are always there to joke and get physical with,” he said, “but my sisters are really my rock. If there’s ever something that’s upsetting me, (my sisters) will always be there. I don’t always directly go to them, but knowing that they’re there whenever is comforting.”
Junior Katie Pittman, who has a younger sister and younger brother, said she could also relate. “Even though I’m the oldest sibling, I still find myself going to (my sister) to talk about things or work through things emotionally,” Pittman said.
Pletcher said the results are due, in part, to the traditional gender roles. “Even though males and females experience the same emotions, females tend to be more expressive,” Pletcher said. “A sister is going to be more caring and thoughtful and go over to that sibling and be more comforting.”
Padilla-Walker said, “The thought is that perhaps sisters are more likely to talk, especially about emotions, and that might be why they are especially protective and influential, but any sibling, brother or sister, was related to these positive outcomes, so that is good news.”
Pittman said both her brother and sister have altered her behavior. She said, “Just having other people around and in the same boat as you makes life way easier and way more fun.”
Post said he would be a completely different person without his siblings. He said, “Even though I’ll never really know how much my sisters have changed me, there’s no doubt that they’ve made me a totally different and probably even a better person.”