Kids spend a great deal of time with their siblings. By the time they turn 11, children spend 33% of their free time with their siblings, more time than they spend with parents, friends, or alone.1 Even busy adolescents manage to find around 10 hours per week to make time for their siblings.1
Sibling relationships offer the potential to practice valuable social skills. Siblings tend to fight a lot: for example, kids between the ages of 3 and 7 average four fights per hour.1 Sibling rivalry- the competition for parents’ love and respect, which peaks between the ages of 8 and 12- increases the potential for conflict.2 Yet these interactions teach kids important lessons on how to resolve conflict.
Siblings have a great deal of influence over one another. A girl whose sister becomes pregnant as a teenager is four to six times as likely to follow in her footsteps.1 Young people who have older siblings that drink are twice as likely to drink as well, and the younger siblings of smokers are four times as likely to do the same.1
At some time or another, siblings intentionally choose to be different than their siblings, a process known as de-identification. This attempt to stake out a unique identity can save these young people from copying a sibling’s risky behavior.1
As a mentor, you should encourage your mentee to build close relationships with his or her siblings. After all, sibling relationships are some of the strongest and most long-lasting relationships there are. However, make sure that your mentee knows that it is okay to make different choices, especially if those choices involve dangerous lifestyle decisions.
For more on the power of sibling relationships, see “The New Science of Siblings.” The University of Michigan Health System “Sibling Rivalry” articles provide helpful tips on how to deal with conflict between siblings.