While sibling rivalry is a normal part of growing up in a family, the conflict, jealousy and competition between teen siblings can become more intense. The emotional and social development of teenagers is partly to blame. However, the role of parents in setting relationship standards and in responding to family conflicts affects how sibling rivalry plays out between teenagers. Teenagers usually outgrow sibling rivalries, even serious ones, with the right kind of help from parents.
In teenage sibling relationships, sibling rivalry is often one end of a spectrum that includes the joy of having a readily available best friend and periods of fierce competitiveness with a mortal enemy. Siblings may simply ignore each other or they might argue loudly over every perceived slight and encroachment into personal territory. Teens respond with anger, frustration and sadness as they try to understand and control the conflict. Conflicts can escalate to name calling and physical fights. Often, teens switch back and forth between loving and hating their siblings. It’s not unusual for parents to separate squabbling teen siblings only to find them later playing a video game together.
Sibling rivalry can occur when parents have limited time and attention, such as in families with special-needs children, and where children have poor role models for healthy relationships. The changing needs of children as they mature often leads to sibling rivalry. The teen years are a critical developmental stage when the need for individuality and independence intensifies. Family history, household responsibilities and birth order affect how teen sibling rivalry manifests. However, the major conflicts that fuel the rivalries are issues of fairness and personal territory, according to a University of Missouri study published in the December 2012 issue of the journal "Child Development." Although the arguments between teen siblings can seem petty and childish, the teens take these squabbles seriously.
Even in the healthiest of families it’s normal for teens to resent a sibling’s perceived edge with the parents – he gets away with everything, she has more freedoms, "mom goes to your recitals but never my games." Lay a foundation for conflict prevention by setting aside regular time to spend with your teens one-on-one and family time to build strong relationships. Spell out the rules and apply consequences consistently. Stress the importance of communication and hold family meetings to air grievances. Let your teens know that you expect them to resolve their differences whenever possible.
How to Respond
Although it’s best to allow teen siblings to work through their conflicts alone, according to nonprofit health resource KidsHealth, your approach makes a big difference in teaching them to resolve differences. Stake out a neutral position, don’t get dragged into the “who started it” debate and allow teen siblings to settle their own differences in minor squabbles. Acknowledge each teen’s feelings and let them know it’s okay to be angry or frustrated with a sibling. Address the inappropriate behavior, but avoid comparing the siblings or taking sides. Separate them to allow calming down time or offer options you choose if they cannot resolve their conflict. Seek professional help if the sibling rivalry is severe or violent.
- KidsHealth.org: Sibling Rivalry
- Time Health and Family: Sibling Rivalry: Squabbling May Lead to Depressive Symptoms, Anxiety, Among Teens
- National Network for Child Care: How to Stop Sibling Rivalry
- Child Development: Differential Associations Between Domains of Sibling Conflict and Adolescent Emotional Adjustment
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