Sibling relationships are complex. Siblings may become close friends or bitter rivals, or they may shift back and forth from one to the other. They may spend a lot of time together, or they may want as little as possible to do with each other. A younger sibling who is in the throes of early adolescence may look up to his more confident, cooler older sister. Or he may resent the older brother who enjoys the privileges of independence and dismisses his younger brother's problems or interests.
The teenage years
During their teen years, siblings may talk about all kinds of things -- music, dating, sex, drinking, drugs -- that they would never, or rarely, discuss with their parents. At a time when many teens want to put a distance between themselves and their parents, siblings often deepen an already close relationship by sharing confidences and advice, worries and feelings.
If siblings are close, the relationship may provide a safer place for a fifteen-year-old girl to be herself. She doesn't feel the same pressure to make an impression, perhaps by putting up a front, as she does with peers. Siblings know one another too well and can't easily reject one another, whereas friendships can come and go, especially in the impressionable teen years.
Teens sometimes try on friends like new clothes, wearing them for a month and then ignoring them in favour of the next person who interests them. But siblings, in a trusting relationship, may find it easier to acknowledge what they're really thinking and feeling. If they're not sure about resisting peer pressure or about dating someone whom their friends snub, their sibling may give them strength to go their own way.
In some families, the differences in age, style, or popularity between two siblings may create a great emotional distance between them. Their sibling rivalry may go sour and develop into major rifts during which the siblings don't even talk to each other for years. In other families, the cocky sixteen-year-old might simply not want anything to do with his younger brother.
Parents cannot and should not try to force siblings to be friends, but they also shouldn't allow one to be mean to the other. Parents can insist that they act respectfully toward each other. As the older sibling matures, parents can encourage him to be more of a mentor to younger siblings.
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With the privileges of driving and more independence come some responsibilities, too. If the seventeen-year-old wants to demonstrate his growing maturity, he can do it by being more supportive toward his nervous, awkward fourteen-year-old brother.
If one child is a star athlete, student, or musician, or has extraordinary good looks, other siblings may feel second-class. That's a sure way to sow the seeds of envy and create a sour relationship. If one teen genuinely feels that another is a favourite, pay attention to those feelings. Don't exacerbate the problem by making comparisons, by praising the one for whom things come easily, or by showing disappointment in the one for whom things are more difficult. Every child is special and has a right to feel special. Make sure each receives an equal share of your attention and time.
Bonding in crisis
If one teen struggles with depression, drugs, or other serious problems, his sibling may provide the best way for you to offer support to the child who is in need but seems incapable of talking to you. Ask your other child for suggestions about getting to the source of the problem and restoring communication.
When the family goes through a crisis like divorce or the death of a close family member, siblings can be a great source of support for one another. The crisis may create a scary, stressful time for them, a time when their whole world seems to be changing. Parents can't force their children to be good friends, but they can shape and share experiences that help their children recognize and appreciate one another's strengths and their struggles to overcome personal problems.
Friends for life
If your children get along well with one another and are close, encourage their relationship and accept that they may spend more time with each other than with you. If your teens become close during their teens, you can he sure that they'll have strong, enduring relationships for the rest of their lives.
These are formative, intense years that shape their identities and leave a lasting mark. When siblings go through their rites of passage together, their relationship is transformed to a new level and they become friends as young adults. They form an enduring bond that they can count on through the triumphs and crises at each stage of their lives.
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