by Madeleine Burke
If you have siblings, you’ve probably experienced the repercussions of stereotypes behind birth order. Society views the eldest child as the perfect role-model that has everything under control. However, the middle child is rebellious and often neglected, while the youngest is sweet and immature. This is what we’ve been told for so long, but are these traits really true? Austrian Psychotherapist Alfred Adler, put this idea to the test as he studied differences between siblings.
Adler started by examining the eldest child, he found that since the eldest children never had to share their parents with another sibling, it’s usually a culture shock when another sibling shows up. The eldest children are seen to be intelligent leaders to their younger siblings. This idea seems pretty intuitive, but it’s true that siblings’ personalities shape their personality. Interestingly, studies found older siblings to partake in less dangerous activities in fear of physical or mental injury. While the older sibling may have everything under control, they’re much more cautious than we think. American Psychologist, Frank J. Sulloway, makes an interesting point on this topic that in history we have seen first born children to be natural trail-blazers such as, Benito Mussolini, Marx, and Joseph Stalin. While some of them may not have been exactly ethical leaders, they still had that instinct to be a guiding power.
We then see the middle child, often the most complicated to categorize. Social media tells us that the middle child is alone and depressed, but what do actual studies tell us? Well, they find almost the opposite of these claims, stating that middle children have an ideal place in the family as they neither have to be the leader or the baby, they’re somewhere in between. They found the middle child to be the calm median between the older and younger extremes. Examples of some famous middle children in history would be, Princess Diana, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King jr. Interestingly, all of these people seem to fit the description of how studies view middle children.
Finally, we have to consider the youngest children in families. Unlike the eldest children, the youngest usually don’t adapt to many of their parents’ ideals. They prefer to make their own beliefs on their own time. The youngest are much bigger risk takers than their siblings and they’re often found to be more ambitious (possibly because they spent most of their childhood being cushioned by older siblings). Even further, the youngest often gets in trouble less with their parents in comparison to their other siblings and often face less responsibilities. Some examples of youngest born children we see today are Jim Carrey, Prince Harry, and Ellen DeGeneres, and while these people do have responsibilities they also seem to fit the description of what studies find youngest children to be like.
With this new information, reflect on your circumstances. Are you the eldest, middle or youngest child? Do you identify more with what the media finds siblings to act or with what studies find? In the end, while everyone is different, it’s interesting to differentiate between what’s fact and fiction.