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Health & Parenting

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No Siblings? Your Social Skills Are Just Fine

Study Shows Teens Without Siblings Have Plenty of Friends
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 17, 2010 -- Despite concerns that an "only" child may be spoiled by his or her parents, new research suggests that teenagers without siblings don't seem to be disadvantaged in the development of social skills.

Researchers at Ohio State University, who examined interview data on more than 13,000 middle and high school kids, say they found that those without siblings were chosen as friends by their classmates as often as those with brothers and sisters.

"I don't think anyone has to be concerned that if you don't have siblings, you won't learn the social skills you need to get along with other students in high school," Donna Bobbitt-Zeher, PhD, co-researcher of the study and assistant professor of sociology at Ohio State's Marion campus, says in a news release.

She says concerns that a lack of siblings could crimp the ability of young people to make friends have increased in recent years but appear to be unfounded.

Bobbitt-Zeher and Douglas Downey, PhD, a sociology professor at Ohio State's Columbus campus, examined data from the National Study of Adolescent Health, which included information from interviews with 13,466 adolescents in seventh through 12th grades at more than 100 schools during the 1994-1995 academic year.

Each youngster was given a roster of all students in his or her school, and asked to identify up to five male and five female friends.

Students in the study were nominated as a friend by an average of five other students. And no important differences were found in "friend" nominations of youths with or without siblings.

Researchers say their findings showed that:

  • The number of siblings a teen had didn't matter when it came to being identified as a friend.
  • Neither did it matter whether those siblings were brothers, sisters, or some combination, or if they were step-siblings or adopted siblings.

"In every combination we tested, siblings had no impact on how popular a student was among peers," Bobbitt-Zeher says.

Families Are Getting Smaller

Concerns about social skills of young people have increased in part because family sizes in industrialized countries have gotten smaller, meaning more kids are growing up without brothers and sisters, Bobbitt-Zeher says.

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