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Family Talk: Sisters and brothers influence each other

Siblings can have a positive or negative effect on us. Hopefully, they come through for you when they're needed. [Thinkstock]
Siblings can have a positive or negative effect on us. Hopefully, they come through for you when they're needed. [Thinkstock]

My sister’s birthday was Sunday, and I thought, what better way to honor her than by writing a column about the importance of siblings. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. I also bought her a present and sent her a card!

There is lots of scientific research about the positive (and potentially negative) effects a brother or sister can have on you. Just to cite a few:

•In an article entitled “How an Adolescent's Childbearing Affects Siblings' Pregnancy Risk,” research scientist Patricia East found an older sister’s unwed pregnancy increased fivefold the chance her younger sister would become pregnant while single.

•Academics describe a phenomenon called “the sibling spillover effect” that suggests an older sibling can have a direct influence on the school grades of a younger brother or sister, for good or ill.

•Siblings teach us how to get along (or not) with other people. In the book “Sibling Relationships Across The Life Span,” psychologist Victor Cicirelli claims "the older sibling gains in social skills in interacting with the younger and the younger sibling gains cognitively by imitating the older." Cicirelli says our brothers and sisters are our "agents of socialization."   

In virtually all areas, siblings can have a positive or negative effect on us. Many of you can recount the times you fought with your siblings. Screamed at them. Competed for parental attention with them. But, hopefully, there were also times they bailed you out (figuratively or literally!). They came through for you when you needed them. They loved you tenaciously and ferociously.

That’s been my experience, I’m grateful to say. Linda was the older sister I looked up to. She was seven years older, and she was cool when I was a dweeb. She drove a convertible. She seemed to have it all together. Although I remember her arguing noisily and vehemently at the kitchen table, and sometime defying, my parents, she loved all of us tenaciously and ferociously.

Like the time I got mad as a little kid and, in a tantrum, kicked a hole in the wall of our living room. She covered for me so I wouldn’t get in trouble with Mom and Dad, making up some story that she had fallen and her knee had banged a hole in the wall. I thought it was a pretty lame story, but I gratefully accepted her intervention. And what do you know, my parents believed it!? (or said they did).

As adults, Linda lived near my folks while I moved half a country away after graduation. She tenderly cared for our folks in their old age. Counting pills, arranging for care, taking them dinner. In countless ways, she was their connection to the outside world when their world closed in. I can never adequately thank her, and my brother-in-law, for their gift of tireless service.

Maybe you’ve got a brother or sister you’ve taken for granted. Or never properly thanked. Or from whom you’ve been estranged. Pick up the phone and call them right now. Don’t miss this opportunity to reconnect and, if you haven’t before, love them tenaciously and ferociously.

Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›