Tuesday, 4 February 2014

"It's just what siblings do" - Is sibling bullying harmless?

There have been a few stories in the news recently about sibling bullying. It's good to see the issue getting coverage in the press, but attitudes towards it are concerning. A typical response is that it's just what siblings do, and builds character for the child being bullied.

This article by BBC News expresses a range of opinions from those who were either bullied by their sibling, or a victim of sibling bullying as a child. A couple of the stories give a positive view of bullying, or call the behaviour bullying when it doesn't fit into the definition of bullying.

Kristina talks about being bullied by her brother, but says it was playful and not malicious in intent. A widely accepted definition of bullying is that it involves harmful intent. She goes on to say "you make the decision as to whether or not you let it bother you". This is concerning because it places the blame on the victim for any long term effects that we know bullying can cause.

Jack describes his experience as the victim of sibling bullying as "a natural part of sibling rivalry" and states that he "can face the worst of other people". Again this paints a positive picture of bullying and undermines that awful experiences that some children go through.

Sibling bullying may be worse than other forms of bullying, such as school bullying by peers. If the perpetrator is a brother or sister, the child has no escape and may live in constant fear. Home cannot be a safe place, and even at school the sibling may be nearby.

The BBC article does give some more negative views. Kathy was bullied by her brother and later suffered from depression as a result. Caroline describes how she would shake from head to foot, and is lucky to still be alive after the violent attacks she suffered. Charlotte, who was a bully herself, is scarred by the memories of bullying her sister.

It is important to tell the negative side of the story, for those children who constantly live their lives in fear. As well as being horrific at the time, the lasting effects can be depression, anxiety, and drug problems among other things. It can be difficult for those who were bullied by their siblings to tell others, because they know the response will be "it's just what siblings do".

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