Listen Up! How You Argued With Your Teen Sibs Has Marked You For Life

Could there be one more child psychologist left in the nation who hasn’t weighed in on sibling rivalry…? I didn’t think so, but I was wrong. University of Missouri researcher Nicole Campione-Barr reports those bickering scratches we pick up as kids eventually grow into psychic scars as adults.

And just when I thought I was finally outgrowing my childhood issues with my younger brother…!

Campione-Barr worked with 145 pairs of teenage sibling over several years, coming to two broad conclusions: (1) those who quarrel over fairness issues [whose turn to empty the dishwasher] were “more likely to become depressed in adult life” (2) those who quarrel over privacy issues [borrowing clothes without asking] were “more likely to be anxious and have low self-eteem in adult life.”

Her report was published this month in the Toronto Globe & Mail. Where neither my brother nor my three children are likely so see it. As it turns out, though, none of us young Spatafora’s in question were teens at the same time. So I guess we don’t qualify for these revelations. But it does raises some questions: (1) why couldn’t the participating Spatafora parents time their child-rearing more efficiently? (2) would that have made any difference in the sibling rivalry? (3) by the way, why do we have child psychologists spending their time and talent weaving such fanciful guesses under the title of research?

No disrespect for the ways in which child psychology has identified so many nuanced descriptions of how our children are shaped during our brief tenure as their mother & father. And yet here are alternative questions I would have preferred the researchers answer: (1) Why is it most parents read and ponder revelations like these only years after they can do anything about it? It’s something like being reminded in ugly detail what you did to your lungs when you smoked (2) Why is it most parents-to-be will read and ponder revelations like these without really really being ready to use them when they have children of their own?

Maybe we should call this the Black Hole of Parenthood. That deep dark ignorance we all seem to suffer when it comes to being a parent. Looks to this scarred teen-and-parent, the only way young fertile newcomers can escape the dreaded Black Hole is to write research papers in place of having children. Trying to write about kids has got to be a lot easier than trying to rear them….

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