Sibling Bullying

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Thomas Venema sibling bullyingAccording to a recent study, children who revealed that their siblings frequently (several times a week or more) bullied them during early adolescence were twice as likely to report clinical depression as young adults.  They were also twice as likely to say that they had intentionally hurt themselves within the previous year.  These findings come from the first longitudinal study to investigate potential links between sibling bullying and clinical depression and self-harm among young adults.  This research suggests that intervention is needed to specifically target a form of bullying which it claims has been largely ignored by researchers, policy makers and psychologists.

While forms of bullying where the victim are targeted at work or in various social instances are well-documented, this study was meant to uncover a more hidden form of bullying.  Victims of sibling bullying are offered little escape, as a relationship between siblings endures throughout childhood development, and often throughout life.  The bullying that this study talks about isn’t the sort of teasing that goes on in families, but incidents that frequently occur, in which victims are either ignored by or subject to verbal and physical violence from their siblings.  For the study, nearly 7,000 children at the age of 12 completed questionnaires in 2003-4 about whether or not they had experienced any form of sibling bullying and how long it occurred if they had.  Six years later, these same children were followed up so that their mental health could be assessed using a validated questionnaire.

Out of the nearly 3,500 children with information on both sibling bullying and psychiatric outcomes, 1,810 said that they hadn’t been bullied by a sibling.  Of these, 6.4% showed signs of significant depression, 9.3% experienced anxiety and 7.6% had self-harmed in the previous year.  Out of the 786 children who said that a sibling had bullied them several times a week, 12.3% reported clinical depression, 14% had committed some sort of self-harm and 16% reported anxiety.  Victims tended to be girls rather than boys, and this form of bullying was more common in families with three or more children, with older brothers tending to be the perpetrators.  They reported that sibling bullying typically started around the age of 8.  Social learning and how to behave around peers starts at home, so when siblings are bullied it can have serious long-term consequences.  Parents need to set clear rules about such an issue, and intervene when necessary so that their children don’t continue to mistreat each other.


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