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Sibling bullying not benign, may harm mental health, study says

Published: Thursday, June 20 2013 7:24 a.m. MDT

Brothers and sisters pick on each other. But while it may be "normal," it is not benign.

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Brothers and sisters pick on each other. But while it may be "normal," it is not benign. A study in the journal Pediatrics says that siblings who bully may create mental harm, and it's a problem that should never be ignored.

The study linked sibling bullying to anger, depression and anxiety. It said 32 percent of the children studied had experienced some type of aggression in the past year from a brother or sister. The study was led by researchers at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.

For the study, "Association of Sibling Aggression With Child and Adolescent Mental Health," researchers interviewed 2,500 children and youths up to age 17, or their parents. The work was part of the National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence.

"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,' " an article in USA Today said of the study's findings.

"There is a natural emotional intensity to sibling relationships," said lead author Corinna Jenkins Tucker, an associate professor of family studies at the University of New Hampshire. "There is a lot of love, but also the potential for a lot of conflicts."

Tucker told Fox News that parents and other adults often downplay sibling aggression and it becomes "under-recognized and under-estimated," she said. "Our work is showing that in some cases, the mental distress associated with sibling aggression is similar to what we see with peer aggression. It is something to be taken seriously."

The researchers looked at the frequency and severity of the bullying behaviors. For instance, some bullying involves weapons and injury, while other kinds do not. They considered siblings who stole from a child, with force or without it, or one who broke a child's belongings on purpose. They also considered verbal action, such as saying things to make a sibling feel bad, scared or not wanted.

They found that such bullying takes a toll on mental health for children and adolescents, including distress even with mild sibling aggression. "Children ages 0 to 9 showed greater mental health distress than did youth aged 10 to 17 in the case of mild physical assault, but they did not differ for the other types of sibling aggression," the authors wrote.

"The data also showed that when comparing sibling versus peer aggression, each uniquely predicted greater mental distress," a release about the study noted. "The authors concluded that parents, pediatricians and the public should treat sibling aggression as potentially harmful and not dismiss it as normal, minor or even beneficial, and this message should be included in parenting education."

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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