Bullying and aggressive behavior by a sibling can be as damaging as bullying by a classmate, neighbor or other peer, finds a new study that links it to increased depression, anxiety and anger among victimized kids and teens.
And that association holds true for the various types of aggressive behavior studied, both mild and severe, from physical and psychological aggression to property victimization, researchers say.
Although peer bullying has increasingly become a recognized problem and the focus of preventive efforts, sibling bullying has historically been viewed as "benign and normal and even beneficial" for a child's social development and ability "to learn to handle aggression in other relationships," according to the study, in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics.
The study "shows that sibling aggression is linked to worse mental health (for the victim), and in some cases it's similar to what you find for peer aggression," says lead author Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.
"For all types of sibling aggression, we found that being the victim was linked to lower well-being for both children and adolescents," Tucker says.
Mental health distress scores were greater for children than for adolescents who experienced mild physical assault, but kids and teens were similarly affected by the other forms of sibling aggression, she says. And even kids who reported just one type of sibling aggression in the past year had higher distress scores than kids who reported none.