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'Not Fair!' How Sibling Fights May Lead to Later Mood Problems

THURSDAY, Dec. 20 (HealthDay News) -- Fights between siblings can lead to anxiety, depression and lower self-esteem, a new study contends.

University of Missouri researchers looked at 145 pairs of siblings, average ages 12 and 15, over the course of a year and found that many of their fights were about equality and fairness (such as whose turn it is to empty the dishwasher) or invasion of personal space (such as borrowing clothes without asking).

Teens who fought with siblings over equality and fairness had higher levels of depression a year later, while those who fought over personal space issues were more anxious and had lower self-esteem, the researchers found.

Younger brothers with older brothers and girls with brothers had more anxiety, while teens with an opposite gender sibling had lower self-esteem, according to the study published Dec. 20 in the journal Child Development.

The researchers also found that teens who were more depressed and anxious had more fights with their siblings a year later, while teens with higher levels of self-esteem had fewer fights with their siblings.

"Our findings may help parents, psychologists and others who work with and support teens to understand that all sibling conflicts are not created equally," study lead author Nicole Campione-Barr, an assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, said in a journal news release.

"It may be possible to avoid sibling conflicts by recognizing that adolescents desire more privacy as they strive for greater independence," she explained. "In addition, structured tradeoffs in chore duties and equal time with shared household items (like computer/video games) give siblings fewer opportunities to compare themselves unfavorably to one another."

Siblings fight in many households. While the study found an association between some of these disputes and mood problems, it did not establish a cause-and-effect relationship.

More information

The Nemours Foundation has more about sibling conflict.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Child Development, news release, Dec. 20, 2012

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