Study shows sibling rivalries can affect Perception of bullying

University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Lori Hoetger (from left), Katherine Hazen and Eve Brank authored a recent study exploring how sibling aggression affects perceptions of bullying. (Photo courtesy of UNL)
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March 18, 2015 - 6:45am

As children, how much of an influence do our siblings have on us? NET News' Ben Bohall talks with the authors of a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln study exploring the impacts of sibling rivalries and how they affect perceptions of bullying as we get older.

NET NEWS: So many of us grow up with brothers or sisters, where rough-housing or fighting really just comes with the territory. But your study is showing us those experiences can leave a lasting impression on us as we get older.

RESEARCH ASSISTANT KATHERINE HAZEN: The experiences that we have with our siblings, growing up, can normalize bullying and aggression behavior. As adolescents, and with peers, we're less likely to identify those behaviors as harmful and report them to teachers, parents, or other authority figures so that they can be prevented.

NET NEWS: Do we know why that is?

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EVE BRANK: I think we suspect that it is that you see the behavior as normal. It's something you've experienced at home so it is something you wouldn't think was anything out of the normal. We're not positive, but that's what we believe is maybe happening.

NET NEWS: How was the study conducted?  Was it done in a qualitative or quantitative manner?

RESEARCH ASSISTANT KATHERINE HAZEN: Procedurally, it was done in two steps. First we asked (students) qualitatively to rate frequency of bullying behaviors- both with peers and with siblings- it was the same measure, we just switched out the words 'peers' and 'in school' with 'siblings' and 'in friends' and used a scale from '0' to '7' with '0' being 'this behavior didn't happen at all' and '7' being 'this behavior happened several times over the course of a week.' We asked students to think about a one month period during their childhood. With some of the later parts we did have some open-ended response questions where we asked participants if they considered 'bullying' the right word to use to describe sibling aggression then we coded some of those responses to be able to quantify our findings... All four versions of the vignette depicted pretty much the exact same behavior we controlled for overt bullying- more pushing, stealing homework, stealing lunch money... versus relational bullying which was social exclusion. We didn't find any differences between those two types of bullying so we collapsed those across the conditions to compare the 'sibling' and the 'peer' aspects of them.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EVE BRANK: The one thing I want to note is that we did use college students, which is a classic sample that's often used in psychology experiments. We felt it was a really good choice for a sample in this case because they were most likely not living at home- involved with sibling relationships like they would be. There have been some studies that have looked at this with high school, middle school students. But they're at home- in the middle of the relationship. And most of our participants were not yet parents. So they have this very unique perspective to be able to talk retrospectively about their experiences before they are then parents who are dealing with sibling rivalry issues.

NET NEWS: Bullying right now in schools is a really hot-button issue. What do you think this information does for us moving forward in preventing bully or at least increasing awareness of it?

RESEARCH ASSISTANT KATHERINE HAZEN: I think the area that we see as ripe for potential from this research is incorporating information about sibling relationships in some of the interventions for peer bullying that are happening in schools- (in order) to train teachers, parents, and students that this behavior with siblings can be just as harmful, if not more harmful, than it is with peers. And hopefully it will be able to bring some of that into light and bring some of it out of the home so that we can really address it, prevent it, and help those kids who may be suffering from it.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR EVE BRANK: And actually one of our findings was that the sibling bullying was much more likely to be reported only within the home- right to parents. It really is just staying within the home. We're not suggesting that it needs to become a legal intervention, or anything like that, but more just that the research findings that we have from peer bullying, and how to prevent it and how to address it, could be used for siblings also and that parents be aware of it and recognize these behaviors as not just normal parts of growing up.



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