Intense schooling environments fuel competition between siblings


Brothers Tommy and Peter Barbato face off.

Rachel Lichter, Feature Writer


Some call their siblings their best friends, but academic vying between them can often drive friendships apart.

When asked about a negative relationship with a sibling, many think of the fights and bickering that happen at home, or of disproportionate levels of parental acknowledgement. However, when siblings who are close in age begin to enter into more rigorous levels of schooling, hostility between them can come in the form of constant competition to be the perfect student.

“Competition creates a lot of pressure,” Psychologist Jean O’Mahoney says. “Kids need a chance to grow and develop their own strengths.”

Pressure evolves with generations, as schooling environments become increasingly cutthroat and intense. This pressure is magnified by the presence of a similarly motivated sibling. Anything from a higher score on a test to more involvement in an extracurricular can create an unhealthy rivalry.

Freshman Emily Kaven is a unique example. Instead of having an older or younger sibling, she has an identical twin, a situation which she claims spurs constant conflict.

“Our family expects us to be equal academically,” she says. “When one of us gets a lower grade, it makes us feel like we’re not as good as the other.”

Emily and her sister both aspire to be software engineers, which means that standardized test results and GPAs are incredibly important. The contest between the two dates back to elementary school, where Emily recalls jealousy over MAP scores.

According to the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, sibling rivalry can be caused by jealousy, or a lack of attention from parents. Each case of sibling rivalry is unique, and not all of it stems from personal expectations to be better than a brother or sister. In many circumstances, the stress can come from parents.

“My parents would always ask me, ‘why can’t you be more like your sister?’” freshman Yuritzy Moreno Rios recalls. “When progress reports came out, my sister had all A’s, and I had C’s and D’s. It was really frustrating, especially since she’s a year below me and we’re not learning the same things. When I was learning to multiply, she was just learning to add.”

This motivation to do well in school may overwhelm some students, but sibling rivalry is not always a bad thing. “Competition can be a healthy, especially for youth who are more zealous,” O’Mahoney says. “For the ones who aren’t, this constant pressure can cause them to shut down.”

Rivalries may encourage some kids to try and work harder, but the stress that comes from this encouragement is not worth it. Each student is an individual with different strengths, and it is important for parents, schools, and students themselves to realize that.

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