Know! The Big Sibling Effect!
There is a unique and special connection between siblings that cannot be
denied nor duplicated. They are both tormentors and protectors; a source of
teasing one moment, the greatest ally the next. Siblings are also likely to be
one and other’s longest-lasting relationship. Four out of five Americans get to
experience the growing years with a brother or sister, and in most families the
older siblings serve as role models for the younger ones. The influence of older
siblings is so powerful in fact, that it is said to rival that of peers and many times
outweigh parental influence - for the better or worse.
Let’s start with the “worse.” When it comes to risky behaviors, research shows
that younger siblings are likely to emulate the behaviors and actions of their
older siblings. A girl whose teen sister becomes pregnant is four to six times
more likely to become a teen mom herself. A younger sibling whose older
brother or sister drinks underage is twice as likely to drink underage as well. If
that older sibling is a cigarette smoker, the younger sibling is four times as likely
to take up the habit. When older siblings use marijuana and other drugs, the risk
for use among their younger siblings also increases substantially.
An interesting finding however, is that the closer in age the siblings, the less
likely the younger one is to follow in the footsteps of the older sibling. Some
experts say this to be due, in part, to the younger sibling wanting to stand out
from his or her older sibling, which could be a positive or a negative, depending
on the situation.
As for the “better” news; good behavior role modeling by older siblings is
believed to be just as contagious among younger brothers and sisters. An
adolescent is more likely to have a negative attitude toward substance use and
make more positive decisions in general, when his or her older sibling chooses
to be drug-free and demonstrates other healthy lifestyle behaviors.
It’s important to be aware and to share! The first step in drug prevention is
awareness. The second piece is conveying that information to your children.
First and foremost, make sure you’re talking with your older and younger
children on a regular and ongoing basis (age-appropriate of course) about the
dangers of substances.
When speaking with older siblings: Stress the importance of their decision making
and how it not only impacts their life, but the life of their younger siblings
who look up to them.
When speaking with younger siblings: Talk with them about the fact that they
are not destined to repeat their older siblings’ negative behavior. Empower
younger siblings by reminding them that they are their own person, fully capable
of making healthier, more positive lifestyle choices, and avoiding the same
mistakes that their older sibling may have made.