Sisters protect siblings from depression, study shows
Something about having a sister – even a little sister – makes 10- to 14-year-olds a bit less likely to feel down in the dumps according to research by Brigham Young University. Credit: Mark Philbrick/BYU
Something about having a sister – even a little sister – makes 10- to 14-year-olds a bit less likely to feel down in the dumps.
That’s one of several intriguing findings from a new study on the impact siblings have on one another. Brigham Young University professor Laura Padilla-Walker is the lead author on the research, which also sorts out the influence of siblings and the influence of parents within families.
“Even after you account for parents’ influence, siblings do matter in unique ways,” said Padilla-Walker, who teaches in BYU’s School of Family Life. “They give kids something that parents don’t.”
Padilla-Walker’s research stems from BYU’s Flourishing Families Project and will appear in the August issue of the Journal of Family Psychology. The study included 395 families with more than one child, at least one of whom was an adolescent between 10 and 14 years old. The researchers gathered a wealth of information about each family’s dynamic, then followed up one year later. Statistical analyses showed that having a sister protected adolescents from feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful. It didn’t matter whether the sister was younger or older, or how far apart the siblings were agewise.
Brothers mattered, too. The study found that having a loving sibling of either gender promoted good deeds, such as helping a neighbor or watching out for other kids at school. In fact, loving siblings fostered charitable attitudes more than loving parents did. The relationship between sibling affection and good deeds was twice as strong as that between parenting and good deeds.
“For parents of younger kids, the message is to encourage sibling affection,” said Padilla-Walker. “Once they get to adolescence, it’s going to be a big protective factor.”
Many parents justifiably worry about the seemingly endless fighting between siblings. The study found hostility was indeed associated with greater risk of delinquency. Yet Padilla-Walker also sees a silver lining in the data: The fights give children a chance to learn how to make up and to regain control of their emotions, skills that come in handy down the road.
“An absence of affection seems to be a bigger problem than high levels of conflict,” Padilla-Walker said.
Provided by Brigham Young University
How has your sibling helped you buffer the stressors of living? Share with us…
John M Goldenring, MD, JD, MPH
Eating disorders in children and teens cause serious changes in eating
habits that can lead to major, even life threatening health problems. The three
main types of eating disorders are:
Anorexia, a condition in which a child refuses to eat adequate
calories out of an intense and irrational fear of becoming fat
Bulimia, a condition in which a child grossly overeats (binging) and
then purges the food by vomiting or using laxatives to prevent weight gain
Binge eating, a condition in which a child may gorge rapidly on
food, but without purging
In children and teens, eating disorders can overlap. For example, some
children alternate between periods of anorexia and bulimia.
Eating disorders typically develop during adolescence or early adulthood.
However, they can start in childhood, too. Females are much more vulnerable.
Only an estimated 5% to 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. With
binge eating, the number rises to 35% male.
What causes eating disorders?
Doctors aren’t certain what cause eating disorders. They suspect a
combination of biological, behavioral, and social factors. For instance, young
people may be influenced by cultural images that favor bodies too underweight
to be healthy. Also, many children and teens with eating disorders struggle
with one or more of the following problems:
- fear of becoming overweight
- feelings of helplessness
- low self-esteem
To cope with these issues, children and teens may adopt harmful eating
habits. In fact, eating disorders often go hand-in-hand with other psychiatric
problems such as the following:
- anxiety disorders
- substance abuse
The dangers of eating disorders
Eating disorders in children and teens can lead to a host of serious
physical problems and even death. If you spot any of the signs of the eating
disorders listed below, call your child’s doctor right away. Eating disorders
are not overcome through sheer willpower. Your child will need treatment to
help restore normal weight and eating habits. Treatment also addresses
underlying psychological issues. Remember that the best results occur when
eating disorders are treated at the earliest stages.
Anorexia in children and teens
Children and teens with anorexia have a distorted body image. People with
anorexia view themselves as heavy, even when they are dangerously skinny. They
are obsessed with being thin and refuse to maintain even a minimally normal
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly one out of
every 25 girls and women will have anorexia in their lifetime. Most will deny
that they have an eating disorder.
Symptoms of anorexia include:
- anxiety, depression, perfectionism, or being highly self-critical
- dieting even when one is thin or emaciated
- excessive or compulsive exercising
- intense fear of becoming fat, even though one is underweight
- menstruation that becomes infrequent or stops
- rapid weight loss, which the person may try to conceal with loose
- strange eating habits, such as avoiding meals, eating in secret, monitoring
every bite of food, or eating only certain foods in small amounts
- unusual interest in food
Ron Huxley’s remarks: Eating disorders are very difficult things to treat, in my experience, as they tend to be so self-reinforcing and have such strong social reactions. This blog post by WebMd is an excellent overview. What it doesn’t address is the feeling of “control” it gives individuals who feel so out of control in life. One’s body can be one area that no one can tell you how to live or act. Finding a substitute that allows for control in a less dangerous way is very important. Ongoing treatment with a specialist and group therapies are also beneficial. How have you dealt with eating disorders with your child? Share!
Is your child sad or appear to have no affect at all? Is your
child preoccupied with the topic of death or other morbid
topics? Has your son or daughter expressed suicidal
thoughts or ideas? Are they extremely moody or irritable
beyond the normal hormonal twists and turns of childhood?
Has there been a drastic change in your child’s eating or
sleeping patterns? If you answered yes to any of these
questions, your child may be suffering from a common but
devastating mental health disorder, called depression.
Depression occurs in 8 percent of all adolescent lives.
Research indicates that children, in general, are becoming
depressed earlier in live. The implications of this is that the
earlier the onset of the illness the longer and more chronic
the problem. Studies suggest that depression often
persists, recurs, and continues into adulthood, and
indicates that depression in youth may also predict more
severe illness in adult life. Depression in young people
often co-occurs with other mental disorders, most
commonly anxiety, disruptive behavior, or substance abuse
disorders, and with physical illnesses, such as diabetes.
Teenagers often turn to substances to “self-medicate” the
feelings of depression. They reject prescribed medications
because of the way it makes them feel and because of the
negative social implications of being labeled as depressed.
Drinking alcohol and using other substances may make
teenagers feel better for a short period of time but the need
to continually use these substances to feel “high” creates
dependence and poses a serious health risk. Depression
in adolescence is also associated with an increased risk
of suicidal behavior. Suicide is the third leading cause of
death for 10 to 24-year-olds and as much as 7 percent of
all depressed teens will make a suicide attempt.
Signs that frequently accompany depression in
adolescence include: • Frequent vague, non-specific
physical complaints such as headaches, muscle aches,
stomachaches or tiredness • Frequent absences from
school or poor school performance • Talk of or efforts to
run away from home • Outbursts of shouting, complaining,
unexplained irritability, or crying • Being bored • Lack of
interest in playing with friends • Alcohol or substance abuse
• Social isolation, poor communication • Fear of death •
Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure • Increased
irritability, anger, or hostility • Reckless behavior • Difficulty
Parents often witness these warning signs but fail to act on
them. Why? Because some teens hide the symptoms from
their parents or parents chalk it up to a stage or
moodiness. Many teenagers go through a time of dark
looking/acting behavior with all black clothing and bizarre
hair arrangements. This can throw a parent off of the trail of
depression by the bewilderment of teen actions and
behaviors. In addition, many teens react aggressively when
confronted about possible depression by their parents
causing mom and dad to back off.
When dealing with teen depression, it is always better to
“be safe than sorry.” Coping with an adolescent’s anger is
much easier to deal with then handling his or her successful
suicide or overdose. When parents first notice the signs of
depression, it is important to sit down with their teen and
ask them, gently but firmly, if they are feeling depressed or
suicidal. Contrary to popular belief, asking a child if he or
she has had any thoughts of hurting or killing themselves
does not cause them to act on that subject. If the teen
rejects the idea that they are depressed and continues to
show warning signs, it will be necessary to seek
If the child acknowledges that he or she is depressed,
immediately contact your physician and seek the assistance
of a mental health professional that works with children and
adolescents. In addition, parents can help their teen by
confronting self-defeating behaviors and thoughts by
pointing out their positive attributes and value. Parents may
need to prompt their teen to eat, sleep, exercise, and
perform basic hygiene tasks on a daily basis. Doing these
daily routines can dramatically help improve mood. Try to
direct the teen to hang out with positive peers. Steer them
away from other depressed adolescents. Explore
underlying feelings of anger, hurt, and loss. Even the
smallest loss of a friend or pet can intensify feelings of
sadness. Allow the teen to talk, draw, or journal about their
feelings without judgment. And for suicidal teens, make a
“no-harm” contract for 24 to 48 hours at a time when they
will not hurt themselves.
With proper care and treatment, depression can be
alleviated and suicidal behaviors prevented. Parents and
teen may even find a new, deeper relationship developing
between them as they work through the dark feelings of
National Institute of Mental Health Web Site. “Children and
Depression: A Fact Sheet for Physicians.”
- Depressed Teenagers: The Problem, Risks, Signs, and Solutions (parentingtoolbox.com)