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Study discovers how big an impact Latino siblings have on one another

LatinaLista — Latino families are known to be large. A Pew report found that:

Fully 20% of Hispanic moms have four or more children, as do 18% of black moms. In comparison, just 11% of white mothers have four or more children, as do 10% of Asian mothers.

In such a full house, there’s little opportunity for kids to be bored or lonely. However, new research finds that sibling relationships impact children more than anyone thought.

Dr. Sarah Killoren, an assistant professor of human development and family science at the University of Missouri, studied pairs of U.S. Mexican-origin siblings, ages 12-15. She and her team followed the siblings over 5-8 years and documented how they interacted with one another. 

She discovered that how siblings acted as they got older were rooted in how they treated and were treated by their siblings.

“Individuals learn how to interact with others based on the relationships they have with their siblings,” Killoren said. “Siblings who are hostile and negative with one another will use that interaction style with their peers. Most peers won’t respond well to hostility and negativity so these youth may be more likely to hang out with a deviant peer group and, in turn, engage in risky behaviors.”

Latino youth are the perfect study subjects since, according to Killoren, “research shows Mexican-origin siblings spend more time with their brothers and sisters than with their parents and their peers during adolescence.”

Killoren looked for three kinds of sibling relationships: positive, negative and affect-intense. She discovered:

Older siblings who had positive relationships with their younger siblings had the fewest depressive symptoms and engaged in the lowest levels of risky behaviors. Overall, siblings with positive relationships engaged in less risky behaviors, whereas siblings with negative relationships engaged in more risky behaviors. Younger siblings who had a negative relationship with an older, opposite-sex sibling had increased sexual risk behaviors.

Killoren suggested one way to combat negative outcomes was for parents to encourage their children to be positive role models for one another, spend time with each other and to take care of one another. 

“The longest-lasting relationships individuals can have are with their siblings,” Killoren said. “It’s important to develop and maintain close relationships in adolescence because they are important throughout the lifespan, especially after siblings lose parents and spouses.”


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