Academic journal article Family Relations

Who's the Boss? Patterns of Control in Adolescents' Sibling Relationships

Academic journal article Family Relations

Who's the Boss? Patterns of Control in Adolescents' Sibling Relationships

Article excerpt

The goals of this study were to examine longitudinal changes in perceived control in adolescents' sibling relationships and to describe the nature and correlates of three distinct control patterns: firstborn dominant, equal, and secondborn dominant. Firstborn and secondborn adolescents in 184 predominately European-American families participated in home interviews and a series of phone interviews as part of a longitudinal a study of family relationships and adolescent development. Findings revealed changes in control over 3 years as well as sibling differences. In addition, different patterns of control were linked to qualities of the sibling relationship and to adolescent adjustment. The different roles that firstborn and secondborn siblings assume and why these roles are linked to relationship experiences and adjustment are discussed.

Key Words: adolescence, adolescent well-being, sibling relationships.

A defining feature of girls' and boys' relationships with their sisters and brothers is the distribution of power or control (Buhrmester, 1992; Dunn, 1983). In early and middle childhood, firstborns or older siblings typically assume a dominant role, and younger siblings hold the follower or less powerful role (Bigner, 1 974; Brody, Stoneman, & MacKinnon, 1 982; Buhrmester & Furman, 1990; McElwain & Volling, 2005); this relationship dynamic is characteristic of a complementary sibling relationship (Dunn). Crosssectional work suggests that in adolescence, sibling relationships become more equal in the balance of power as firstborns begin to relinquish some of their control and secondborns acquire a more equal status (Buhrmester; Buhrmester & Furman; Goetting, 1986). In this study, we expand on the existing knowledge about power dynamics in adolescents' sibling relationships by examining developmental changes in firstborn and secondborn siblings' perceptions of control over 3 years and by exploring potentially important differences across families in siblings' patterns of control. Although the role structure of sibling relationships is highlighted as one of the defining features of sibling relationships (McHaIe, Kim, & Whiteman, 2006), little is known about the developmental patterns and the potential variability in sibling power dynamics.

Developmental Changes in Sibling Control in Adolescence

Developmental scholars highlight the unique socialization opportunities provided by peers (Erikson, 1968; Rogoff, 1990). Through their interactions with other youth, girls and boys have opportunities to learn and develop social cognitive skills in relationships that are more equal in the division of power and control than those they develop with adults in their lives (e.g., parents, teachers). Comparisons of youth's relationships with different members of their social networks suggest that youth establish more egalitarian relationships with agemates (e.g., friends and, to a lesser extent, siblings; Buhrmester, 1992; Buhrmester & Furman, 1990; Goetting, 1986). Longitudinal data on changes in control and dominance in children's and adolescents' relationships with other youth are limited, however (for an exception, see Ostrov & Collins, 2007). In a study designed to compare changes in adolescents' relational control (and intimacy) with their siblings as compared to their best friends using data from this study, adolescents reported higher levels of control with their siblings than with their friends and declines in control with siblings and friends (averaged across the two relationships) over a 3 -year period (Updegraff, McHaIe, & Crouter, 2002). In this study, we extended this work, focusing on changes in firstborns' versus secondborns' reports of control in the sibling dyad, highlighting insights gained from a withinfamily approach that directly compares firstborn and secondborn siblings' reports of control.

Drawing on a developmental perspective and expanding on existing cross-sectional research, our first goal was to describe longitudinal changes in siblings' perceptions of control over a 3-year period, beginning when firstborns were in middle adolescence (i. …

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