A new study may lead to a rewriting of the textbooks as researchers discover a positive sibling relationship helps boys, as well as girls.
The finding is a surprise to family scholars because boys typically report that they benefit less than girls from peer relationships.
“In our study, most relationships were not as important for boys as they were for girls,” said study co-author Laura Padilla-Walker, Ph.D.
“But the sibling relationship was different — they seemed to report relying on sibling affection just as much as girls do. It’s an area where parents and therapists could really help boys.”
Padilla-Walker and fellow Brigham Young University professor Jim Harper, Ph.D., found that a sibling relationship enhances the growth of sympathy.
A quality relationship with a brother or sister also increased teens’ levels of altruism, also known as prosocial behavior.
While the value of having close friends to turn to is important, a close relationship with a sibling can be a unique gift.
“Having a sibling you can count on seems to make a difference especially for prosocial behavior,” said Harper. “Best friends make a contribution, but siblings still matter.”
In the study, 308 pairs of teenage siblings were followed for three years.
Investigators measured their development and tracked the quality of their relationships with friends and family members.
“This was the first siblings study to control for all these other important relationships,” Padilla-Walker said. “We can say that siblings are uniquely important, which is encouraging.”
The authors believe the practical message from the study is clear: Parents should do everything they can to help their children have a positive relationship with each other as the connection will yield lasting rewards.
Researchers found that boys who have a hostile relationship with a sibling were significantly more likely to have behavioral problems later on.
But the researchers caution that parents need to more than just break up fights.
“The absence of conflict does not mean the presence of affection,” Padilla-Walker said.
“It’s OK if siblings fight, but help them get through that and have other positive interactions.”
The study is found in the Journal of Research on Adolescence.
Source: Brigham Young University