- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 24, 2011

Culture Challenge of the Week: Disconnected Siblings

“I really don’t see my brother much. We’re not that close.”

Jenny was nineteen, a sophomore at a California university. Her brother, a junior at the same school, lived in a nearby dorm. A volleyball court, two bike racks and a grassy hill separated their daily lives, but Jenny hadn’t seen her brother in months, except for a few glimpses in the school’s cafeteria.


Her voice betrayed sadness - for a moment. “We never hung out much when we were kids.”

Then she continued with a practiced shrug. “It’s OK.”

But it’s not OK - for Jenny, her brother or any of our children. They need each other, even if they don’t realize how much.

In 2006, a Duke University study reported that the average American shares confidences - a sign of closeness in a relationship - with only two people, down from three in the span of one generation. Twenty-five percent of people have no one in whom to confide. The result: loneliness and isolation.

So where do family relationships enter this picture?

On the plus side, family members are the chosen confidantes 80 percent of the time. Even though friends and social networks create communities that reach across time and distance, family members remain the most stable and consistently supportive relationships in most people’s lives.

Indeed, when parents nourish strong connections among siblings, the payoff lasts long into adulthood. Research shows, for example, that children who grew up with close sibling relationships are less likely to be depressed as adults.

And close sibling relationships provide immediate benefits as well. A recent study done by Brigham Young University’s Flourishing Families program found that adolescents who experienced close relationships with their sisters (no matter how old or how far apart in age) were less likely to feel alone, sad, fearful or depressed. And children who experience good sibling relationships are more likely to exhibit kindness and charity in their everyday lives.

The research is clear: Our children need each other. Many parents, however, find it increasingly difficult to nurture strong sibling relationships.

Distance and disconnection start young and the school year takes its toll: Different schools or buses, dance or football teams, piano lessons or tutoring, homework, and orthodontist appointments keep us running endlessly in different directions. Even day care and after-school care separate siblings by age. Personal electronics may erect virtual walls between siblings, reducing their common interests and shared experiences.

Unless parents are careful, sibling time will evaporate into busyness. And, before we know it, we’ll have disconnected siblings, like Jenny and her brother.

Story Continues →