All siblings are created equal: no one child is objectively better than another, no older sister superior to their younger brother. There are, however, notable studied differences in
how birth order affects personality or the difficulties you faced growing up. But the reason for this variance lies with the transition of parenting styles, as mothers and fathers become more seasoned professionals — and in no way, with their kids.
Parenting, like all things, has a learning curve. "Even though there are thousands of books on parenting, there is no book out there about how to parent your child,"
Dr. Gary Brown, Licensed Family Therapist expert, tells Bustle. "That means, parents are writing the book on parenting — and a separate book on parenting for each of their children."
So while your birth order might indicate your parent's evolution, outside of a few cultural exceptions, it in no way
determines your destiny, character, or longterm success. "It is generally true that where you are in birth order does tend to have some impact on your emotional growth," Dr. Brown says. "Having said that, it is equally not true that your birth order is going to predetermine the course of your life or your ability to feel happy and fulfilled. Our development as children has much more to do with where we are in terms of our own maturity."
With that being said, there are certain advantages and disadvantages that correlate to being the youngest, middle, or older child. Here are a few textbook examples according to experts, but remember: a correlation is
not a determination.
First-Borns Might Be Put Under The Most Pressure
First-born children are usually showered with undivided attention because they are their parents' first attempt at parenting. This means that Mom and Dad channel their energy into the child, who in turn becomes a sort of "guinea pig." Because of this undivided attention, parents may put added pressure on the first-born in hopes that their efforts prove fruitful. "It is important for first-time parents to understand that we tend to put
a good deal of pressure on our first child to meet levels of expectation that may or may not be healthy for them," Dr. Brown says. "Whether we admit it or not, we are invested in how others may see our child and how our child is judged." First-born children are not a reflection of their parents' intellect, but may have been treated as such.
First Borns Are More Likely To Take On Leadership Roles
Due to the amount of pressure that is put on first-born children, as previously stated, first borns
tend to be the most ambitious. According to Dr. Brown, of our 45 presidents, 24 have been first-born. Even in NASA, 21 out of the first 23 astronauts were first-born children, and the overwhelming majority of Nobel Laureates are also first-born. But it is a total myth that this means that first-borns are smarter than their younger siblings! "Researchers have debunked the idea that first-borns are significantly more intelligent," Dr. Brown says. "One recent study found that the difference in IQ between first-born and later-born siblings is only about 1 to 1.5 points — virtually the same."
First-Borns Can Be More Self-Centered
First-borns tend to grow up with their parents' sole devotion. This may lead first-borns to be a bit more self-centered, because of the level of attention they received as a child. "There are a number of challenges for the firstborn that typically occur when the second child is born," Dr. Brown says. "Having been used to being the center of attention, it can be difficult to integrate having a new sibling. In psychology we call this a 'narcissistic injury.' It can be hurtful." It is the parents' responsibility to make healthy adjustments, to ensure that their children use the the birth of a new sibling as an opportunity, to practice empathy and the willingness to share.
Middle Children Take On The Role Of Peace Maker
By the time parents give birth to a second child, they are no longer rookies. This means that a certain amount of pressure is relieved, and the middle child can focus their energy instead on maintaining a sense of tranquility in the household "Less demanding of perfection in general, more experienced parents tend to be more at ease with parenting their middle child," Dr. Brown says. "They [might] grow up to
be more social, get along with a wider array of people, and are able to tolerate more different perspectives than their older siblings. As a result, more often than not, they tend to be peacemakers."
Middle Children Sometimes Struggle With Self-Esteem
Second children are also saddled with the burden of having something, or rather someone, to be compared to. This might create a source of insecurity. "As parents, we naturally begin to compare our children once we have our second child — we begin to notice similarities and differences," Dr. Brown says. "What is most important for parents is to honor the fact that each of your children is unique." Parents must take special notice to capture equal amounts of photos and videos of all their children, as to make each one feel valued.
Middle Children Can Get Caught In The Cross-Fire
Second born children are not only the peace makers, but because of their easy and approachable nature, might also be those most likely to get caught in the middle of conflict at home. "It’s important that parents make every effort to ensure that their middle child does not routinely get in the crossfire while trying to make the peace," Dr. Brown says. "The middle child can sometimes be the 'forgotten child.' and parents need to send them the message that they are valued — both with words and deeds. That’s the job of parents. Not the child, no matter their birth order."
The Youngest Child Is Most Likely To Feel Left Out
The youngest child might literally look up to their older siblings, but will sometimes be unable to take part in the same past times, leading them to feel like the odd man out. "The youngest may tend to feel left out at times, especially when it comes to their older siblings activities," Dr. Brown says. "They may not have the physical stature and coordination to play some of the games that their older siblings can." Parents can do their best in minimizing this issue by choosing activities that can be enjoyed by the whole family, regardless of age.
The Youngest Child Might Struggle With Dependency
Youngest children will have older siblings to help them with their homework, and teach them how to ride a bike, leading them to possibly become less independent on their own. "The youngest child often has great dependency needs," Dr. Brown says. "[They] may find [themselves] clinging to [their] older siblings and [their] parents. They may become unhealthily dependent in ways that make it difficult for them to develop resilience later on in life." Of course this isn't the case for all youngest children, but it's important that parents teach them autonomy and self-reliance, so that they feel empowered to confidently go out into the world.
The Youngest Child Can "Get Away" With More
The truth is, by the time parents have their youngest child, they have seen it all. They put less pressure on themselves, and see their kids as individuals instead of self-reflections. This can lead to last borns taking advantage of the situation. "More often than not, their needs will likely be met — they will likely learn early on that their place is also special because [they] benefit from the fact that [they have] multiple caregivers," Dr. Brown says. "This is an advantage they might enjoy that their older siblings may not have." One way to teach the youngest child good values is by making sure they have assigned chores, that establish their contribution and role to the household.
In the end of the day, all siblings are unique individuals and equal in value, regardless of their birth order. It's easy to make a generalization about being an older sibling, or younger, but our real value and integrity comes from our ability to care for ourselves and others.