The surprising way having siblings can affect a teen's mental health

New research is challenging our understanding of sibling dynamics

Teenager with his younger siblings
(Image credit: Getty Images)

New research has uncovered the surprising effect of having siblings on teenagers' mental health and it's not good news for large families.

There's a lot to worry about when you're the parent of a teenager. Days are filled with questions like 'How much sleep do teenagers need?' and, said in more of an annoyed than worried tone, 'Are you even listening to me?'

But one of the biggest worries is about a teen's mental health. One in five 16–25-year-olds miss school or work due to poor mental health and we so often blame an addiction to social media for the majority of a teen's struggles. But new research shows there might be a different trigger affecting their mental health that's a lot closer to home. 

A recent study from the Journal of Family Issues has found that teens with a large number of siblings struggle more with their mental health than their peers who come from smaller families. In addition to this, having siblings who are close in age only further worsens a teen's mental health. 

The study's authors explain, “Parents who have more children may have fewer resources to reduce stress in the home relative to parents who have fewer children.

“Closely spaced siblings compete more for the kinds of resources the target child needs from parents. In addition, siblings born within one year and older are the only ones associated with lower mental health while younger siblings have no association with mental health.”

All parents know how hard it is to prevent sibling rivalry and it's even been found that kids who fight with their siblings will fare better in life, but with the research showing that single children and those with just one sibling had better mental health than subjects with multiple siblings, there's clearly an issue. 

So what about siblings is causing teen's to struggle with their mental health? Licensed therapist Samantha Quigneaux, speaking to Buzzfeed explained, "More children could mean more competition for parents’ time and attention, and children who experience inconsistent or insufficient attention may develop feelings of neglect which can lead to mental health issues."

 Jeff Gardere, a clinical psychologist, also spoke to the publication, explaining why siblings who are closer in age may further struggle. “Because they are closer in age, the kids may have the same maturational stage as we tend to treat them the same way or give them the same type of resource.

"The reality is that they may be close in age but have individual needs and, as parents, we tend to miss that. In other words, we don’t distinguish their individual or unique needs or perspectives.”

What can parents do? “To mitigate potential mental health effects of having many siblings, individuals can focus on developing strong communication skills within the family, fostering individualised connections with each sibling, and seeking support from parents or other trusted adults,” Quigneaux explained. 

“Establishing personal boundaries, and ensuring that each sibling feels heard and understood can contribute to a healthier family dynamic.”

To better communicate and understand you teenager, why not try using these 25 teen conversation starters and learn how to manage and talk to you kids about their mental health.

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse
Royal News and Entertainment writer

Charlie Elizabeth Culverhouse is royal news and entertainment writer for She began her freelance journalism career after graduating from Nottingham Trent University with an MA in Magazine Journalism, receiving an NCTJ diploma, and earning a First Class BA (Hons) in Journalism at the British and Irish Modern Music Institute. She has also worked with BBC Good Food and The Independent.