As the youngest of three kids, I learned a lot about the ways of the world from my older siblings. My bother was a risk-taker who, among other things, introduced me to the thrill of sneaking out of my bedroom window in the middle of the night. My sister, cautious by nature, urged me to consider the consequences of that very same behavior.
I ended up somewhere in the middle – a wild child who lived in fear of getting caught. According to researchers, the apparent influence my siblings had on my behavior is not uncommon. And this sibling effect, they say, is something parents would do well to heed.
Laurie Kramer, a professor at the University of Illinois, says that while parents no doubt have a huge influence on the behavior of their children, siblings often have more impact where it really matters: Out in the real world with their peers.
Because siblings themselves are in the thick of it, learning to navigate the tricky waters of peer acceptance, they, rather than parents, tend to act as a “agents of socialization” for siblings. In other words, while our parents are busy teaching us how to be good, our siblings are teaching us how to be cool.
Kramer and her colleagues conclude that siblings contribute a lot to who we end up being and those contributions may not all be good ones. Really? To paraphrase a commenter on the original article: Anyone who had a childhood knows that.
What Kramer barely touches on is the influence of friends. After all, where do you think my brother learned to sneak out the bedroom window? It was a friend, of course, who first lured him to the dark side of juvenile delinquency. This particular kid was fictional Eddie Haskell personified and a frequent guest in our home.
We all know you can’t pick your family but you can pick your friends. And, to a degree, your kid’s friends. And while there is no doubt that siblings impact each other’s behavior, it’s the kids from other families you need to watch out for. Despite the fact that June Cleaver clearly had Eddie Haskell’s number, she did nothing to dissuade his friendship with her son. Had that been real life, I feel sure that Wally and Beaver would have been sneaking out windows, too.
Image: Marc Lippe/Flickr