It is often dismissed as a normal part of growing up. But being picked on by your brother or sister can cause deep mental scars, experts have warned.
According to a study by the University of Oxford, children who are bullied regularly by a sibling could suffer from depression, anxiety and self-harm in later years.
Researchers from the Universities of Oxford, Warwick and Bristol and University College London sent questionnaires to 7,000 12 year children in 2003-04 and went back to them six years later to assess their mental health. They were asked if they had experienced bullying by a sibling (“when a brother or sister tries to upset you by saying nasty and hurtful things, or completely ignores you from their group of friends, hits, kicks, pushes or shoves you around, tells lies or makes up false rumours about you.”
Twice as likely to suffer depression, anxiety and self harm
The study revealed most children said they had not experienced bullying. At 18 years old, .4% of these children had depression, 9.3% experienced anxiety and 7.6% had self-harmed.
786 children said they had been bullied by a sibling several times a week. The scores doubled for these children: with 12.3% having depression, 14% had self-harmed and 16% of them reported anxiety.
Most victims said that sibling bullying had started when they were eight. The study also highlighted that girls were more often the victims of sibling bullying, particularly in families with three or more children and it was older brothers who were usually the perpetrators.
Author Dr Lucy Bowes, from the University of Oxford, said that although they couldn’t say sibling bullying caused depression, the results were significant.
“If it occurred in a school setting there would be repercussions. We need to do more research, but we also need parents to listen to their children. It may be causing long-term harm.”
Sibling rivalry is normal in families with more than one child. However it becomes a problem when one child bullies or dominates the other and it is important not to confuse bullying and sibling rivalry.
As Dr Bowes highlights: “We are not talking about the sort of teasing that often goes on within families, but incidents that occur several times a week, in which victims are ignored by their brothers or sisters, or are subjected to verbal or physical violence.”
Emma Jane Cross, from BeatBullying said: “Being bullied as a child can have a devastating effect which lasts a lifetime. Parents should speak to their children as early as possible before the problem escalates, rather than dismissing it as normal sibling rivalry.”