Siblings squabble and fight with each other. Occasionally, things are flung and feelings get hurt; it’s a fact of life everyone has come to accept. Many view sibling rivalry as an inevitable part of development and can’t imagine life without such an important childhood experience. But not all children have siblings. For them, life is different; they get in no fights with angry brothers or sisters and they get all the attention. They are only children.
Fairmont senior Julianne Perez is an only child, and despite missing out on all the fun that comes along with sibling rivalry, she’s content with having no siblings. “I used to wish I had a sibling but not anymore,” she said. “I just feel that since I’m so much older, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy having a sibling. They would feel like they were my niece or cousin.”
Tina Kurtz, IB Psychology teacher at FHS, is also an only child and, much like Perez, enjoys the advantages of not having a sibling. “I’ve never wanted a sibling,” said Kurtz. “I also had a lot of friends with brothers or sisters, so maybe that helped with the loneliness.”
In fact, a house without siblings can seem pretty quiet. “Sometimes I would be very lonely when no one was around,” said Kurtz. “It wasn’t a fun feeling.”
Fairmont sophomore Conner Nienhaus says he’s also felt lonely as an only child. “If my friends can’t come over and play video games with me, I get lonely,” he said. “So sometimes I wish for a brother or sister, just to have some company.”
Sophomore Ross Partin provides the opposite perspective. “I have three sisters, and they bug me sometimes,” he said. “But I am proud of them at the same time.”
Despite the occasional loneliness, Nienhaus enjoys being an only child. “There are a lot of good things to being an only child,” he said. “For instance, I don’t have to ever share anything. I can do whatever I want without having to worry about babysitting my younger siblings.”
In addition to freedom from watching younger brothers and sisters, Nienhaus enjoys other advantages of being an only child. “I get a lot of the things I want,” said Nienhaus. “My parents end up spending a lot more money on me because they don’t have any other children.”
Research from the Women’s and Children’s Health Network shows that only children are highly motivated and do well in their studies. They tend to learn things on their own, have good language skills, and are also more responsible since they have to care for themselves. In addition, the research showed that only children have a better relationship with their parents.
“I used to be extremely close with my parents when I was younger,” said Perez.
Having a close relationship with parents is also true in Kurtz’s case. “My mom used to be my best friend when I was younger,” she said.
Researchers often study the behavioral differences between only children and siblings. One Ohio State University study found kindergarteners with siblings are more social, while only children are more withdrawn. “Children without siblings were consistently being rated as having poorer social skills,” said Douglas Downy, co-author of the study and associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University. “Siblings fight with each other and have conflicts, but they figure out how to resolve these conflicts. That probably helps them with other kids at school.”
Kurtz points out that some of these statements ring true. “Being an only child makes you have more problems getting along with other kids because you don’t have a sibling to pick on,” she said. “Whenever I was picked on at school, I would always get a feeling of disbelief and hurt.”
Although only children are often stereotyped as selfish and unable to stand up for themselves, that doesn’t make it true.
“I guess some kids that don’t have any brothers or sisters can be selfish, but not all of them are,” Partin said. “Some of my friends don’t have siblings but they’re still as generous as a kid who had a lot of siblings.”
Kurtz, however, admits she sees some truth in the stereotype. “I honestly am selfish,” she said. “And I have never tried to defend myself and I still don’t.”
Although some children with siblings wish to be only children sometimes, many good things come out of sibling relationships. Younger children learn from older siblings, for example, and older children can learn responsibility by helping to care for little brothers and sisters.
Research from the University of Cambridge shows that even where sibling rivalry exists, advantages also exist. For example, the younger child is usually exposed to the language that the older siblings use. As a result, younger siblings at age 3 show a greater understanding of language than their older siblings did at the same age. By the age of 6, the younger children’s understanding of social studies has increased rapidly, and they are conversing about emotions on an almost equal level to their older siblings.
Like anything in life, though, there are both benefits and negative aspects about being only children. Perhaps the stereotype is deserved – perhaps not. But only children certainly do have a different way of growing up and developing, and inevitably that will affect them in both positive and negative ways.
Perez points out that she learned how to entertain herself when she was lonely, which is a good skill. But the downside? “I would have to do all the chores that siblings usually share,” she said.