The sibling relationship exists in alternating periods of loathing and love. Siblings that may hate one another in any given moment will align seamlessly when the perceived enemy is a parent. Whatever lines are drawn between the siblings, they are erased when outsiders criticize a member of a family.
How Sibling Influence Begins
The sibling relationship is complicated as the members of a family age. As the older child becomes a teenager, goes through high school and graduates to move on to college, the younger child is watching. The older child is perceived to have a life full of fun, glamour and independence. The younger child quickly decides that this is a person worth of imitation.
The imitation may be a positive influence on the younger sibling as they become a teenager. A younger sibling following in the footsteps of a responsible older brother or sister who excels academically or in extracurriculars may help the younger child navigate high school successfully.
An older child who takes more risks or is not dedicated to academic excellence, but whose overall lifestyle is still appealing to the younger child may carry some predictions of poor decisions for the younger child, according to research conducted in recent years.
In 2010, researchers David S. Anderson, Ph.D., and Hugh Gusterson, Ph.D., at George Mason University conducted a study that resulted in a report they titled “Understanding Teen Drinking Cultures in America.” In their report, Anderson and Gusterson provided evidence that showed sibling alcohol consumption as a predictor for teen alcohol consumption.
Why Older Siblings Greatly Affect Younger Siblings
The researchers note that older siblings are often willing to obtain alcohol for younger siblings. They may also encourage the behavior in other ways, such as encouraging drinking and advancing a wrong mindset that alcohol consumption is a rite of passage for teenagers.
Older siblings can also work as a deterrent for drinking in a younger sibling. An older sibling who provides accurate information about the risks of drinking, as well as encouraging restraint in a younger child can make a significant positive impact. The authors of the study suggest that parents focus on helping their children establish supporting bonds with one another. Support in a sibling relationship may discourage dangerous behaviors in both older and younger siblings.
Sibling influence is also important when it comes to other substances of abuse. Dr. Abby Fagan at the University of Washington conducted a study examining the influence of siblings in teen drug use. The study’s data comes from the Mater-University of Queensland Study, which was originally designed to gather data on pregnancies.
Included in data were interviews with 1,370 teens, from which a connection was observed between siblings and alcohol consumption.
The surveys taken during the study revealed that if an older sibling used an illegal substance, alcohol consumption increased significantly in the younger sibling. If an older sibling drank alcohol, the likelihood that the younger sibling would drink rose from 25 to 53 percent.
Helping Younger Siblings With Self-Identity And Alcohol Awareness, Avoidance
Experts believe that raising awareness is an important part of the effort to limit the influence of older siblings’ alcohol consumption on younger siblings. There are local campaigns in some cities that educate individuals about the danger of buying alcohol for teens, for instance.
Parents can also make a significant impact in helping younger siblings not imitate the negative behaviors of older siblings. Parents can help younger siblings to establish their own identities through engagement in extracurricular activities that focus on their own talents and skills. In addition, parents can openly express their wishes about alcohol use and keep an ongoing, open conversation with the younger teen about the risks associated with alcohol consumption.
Older siblings can help younger teens to avoid alcohol consumption by sharing with them a realistic picture of the consequences associated with alcohol use. Older siblings can also help younger teens keep an eye on aspects of life that are positive. By discussing positive events happening in each of their lives, older siblings can send a strong message about which behaviors are important.
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