Having a sister helps protect against teenage depression

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An interesting study from Brigham Young University led by professor Laura Padilla-Walker, has found that having a sister helped to protect a teenage sibling from developing depression and intriguingly, it didn’t matter what the age difference was, nor did it matter if she was younger or older.

The study involved gathering detailed information on almost 400 families from Seattle who had at least one teenager between the ages of 10 and 14 and who had more than one child in the family, then one year later the researchers followed up on those families.

The researchers noted that having a sister could prevent teenagers from “feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful”.

“For parents of younger kids, the message is to encourage sibling affection,” said Padilla-Walker” because “Once they get to adolescence, it’s going to be a big protective factor.”

However, brothers weren’t completely left out of the picture. The researchers also said that affectionate siblings of any gender or age had a positive influence on the emotional wellbeing of each other.

However, the results of the follow up showed that having a sister appeared to be more influential than having a brother, perhaps because girls in general are more likely to talk about their problems and adopt a caring role said Dr Padilla Walker.

Another interesting finding was that siblings mattered more than parents as far as promoting kindness and generosity was concerned.

Ok so what happens if the siblings don’t get on very well?

It’s normal for children to squabble but apparently those who fight and are often openly hostile to each other are more likely to display this type of behaviour in other relationships. This behaviour was associated with a higher level of delinquency.

However, it’s not the fighting that seems to be the problem; it’s when it’s combined with lack of affection for each other that the damage is done.

“An absence of affection seems to be a bigger problem than high levels of conflict,” said Padilla-Walker.

Sibling influence was even more pronounced in families with two parents as opposed to single parent families and this may be because in single parent families one of the siblings could possibly become a “parent figure” to a younger child and this would change the family dynamics.

The study is to be published in the August edition of the Journal of Family Psychology.

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