Sibling bullying is more destructive than we thought

Older brothers and sisters that bullied their younger siblings can push them towards a greater risk of mental health, leading to issues that affect overall well-being later on in life, according to a new paper.

It’s not just the victims who suffer

New research from the University of York in the U.K. scanned data from over 17,000 people and found that problematic sibling relationships in early adolescence can have a long-term effect on both positive and negative mental health later in adolescence. The mental effects don’t only apply to the victim; researchers said the perpetrator may also feel the brunt of their actions.

“Whilst sibling bullying has previously been linked to poor mental health outcomes, it was not known whether there is a relationship between the persistence of sibling bullying and the severity of mental health outcome, in the longer term,” Dr. Umar Toseeb, lead author and a member of the University of York’s Department of Education, said in a statement.

“In the first study of its kind, we comprehensively investigated a whole range of mental health outcomes, which included measures of both positive (eg wellbeing and self-esteem) and negative (eg symptoms of psychological distress) mental health.

“Of particular note was the finding that even those who bullied their siblings, but weren’t bullied themselves (i.e. the bullies) had poorer mental health outcomes years later.”

The study, published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescense, asked participants to complete surveys about their experiences with sibling bullying at ages 11 and 14. A follow-up mental health questionnaire was later taken when the participants were 17.

All involved have high levels of internalizing problems

Researchers said that adolescents who are involved in sibling bullying, regardless of their role, both follow a “different trajectory” of externalizing problems compared to others that were not involved in sibling bullying. Kids that experienced sibling bullying were found to have higher levels of internalizing problems throughout their adolescence.

Nearly 30% of kids experience sibling bullying — either as being bullied or bullying their siblings, according to a 2019 study.