No Siblings? Your Social Skills Are Just Fine
Study Shows Teens Without Siblings Have Plenty of Friends
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.
"The fear is that they may be losing something by not learning social skills through interacting with siblings," she says.
But that doesn't appear to be the case, even though a 2004 study by Downey did find that children with siblings had poorer social skills in kindergarten, compared with school mates who had at least one sibling. So the new study was done to determine whether that effect goes away, and it apparently does.
The researchers say there is also concern that parents who have large families are different from other parents in ways that may affect the popularity of their children.
Bobbitt-Zeher and Downey also factored into their analysis other variables, such as socioeconomic status, race, and whether a teen lives with both biological parents. Those factors didn't change their findings about the number of friends.
Bobbitt-Zeher says the 2004 study by Downey and the latest research project used different methods for estimating social skills, and that may have played a role. Also, the earlier study of kids in kindergarten was based on teacher ratings of social skills, not on number of professed friends among peers.
Learning Social Skills
Bobbitt-Zeher says she feels that kids learn a lot about getting along with others in the years between kindergarten and high school.
"Kids interact in school, they're participating in extracurricular activities, and they're socializing in and out of school," she says. "Anyone who didn't have that peer interaction at home with siblings gets a lot of opportunities to develop social skills as they go through school."
The researchers conclude that the increase in smaller families "will have few consequences for children's social skills." The research was presented in Atlanta during the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association.