Bullying on the playground might not be as frequent as bullying in the home.
Sibling rivalries could be more like bullying, but neither the perpetrator, nor the victim, see it as such. At least that’s what one study by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers showed.
The study, published in the Journal of Family Violence, questioned nearly 400 college undergrads about their childhood, using “a checklist of physical and verbal behaviors that fit an academic definition of bullying if they are repeated over time,” according to NBC News.
The results were surprising. Most students, based on the key words and actions on the checklist, described their childhood experience with bullying as how they interacted with their siblings. And those who had been bullied by a sibling were less likely to tell an authoritative figure if they saw someone else being bullied.
“We think that’s because people who are experiencing sibling bullying somehow normalize it,” Lori Hoetger, one of the researchers, said.
Katey Smith, a licensed clinical social worker with the non-profit Family Centers in Connecticut, says that parents often take home bullying lightly and attribute it to ‘sibling rivalry.’
Smith recently worked with a family of a mother, father, and two sons. The parents went for helped when they recognized their gifted 11-year-old athlete was picking on his artsy younger brother.
“It’s verbal but it can become physical when rough play and wrestling turns into something more extreme,” Smith said. “It’s mostly the older brother making fun of the little brother. It’s all the time and it causes the little one quite a bit of stress because he looks up to his brother.”
Smith has given the family boundaries to set for the older brother, and coping mechanisms for the younger. But she insists that actually breaking the cycle is imperative because bullying can have long-term effects.
NBC noted that “A study last year by the University of New Hampshire found that the 32 percent of children who reported being victimized by a brother or sister suffered higher rates of mental-health distress. Researchers from Oxford University discovered children who were bullied by a sibling at age 12 were twice as likely to report depression or anxiety at age 18.”
Ross Ellis is a real estate agent who founded a non-profit advocacy group called Stomp Out Bullying, but she still doesn’t necessarily agree that sibling aggression is all that serious.