Digital Parenting

Heard of helicopter parents? Helicopter siblings on the rise

Stand for the Silent - December 20, 2021

Stacy Hawkins, a 30-year-old mother of three, recently told The Wall Street Journal that her 12-year old girl and 13-year-old boy have a remarkable relationship: They parent each other.

Hawkins, in a conversation with reporter Charlie Wells, said “nothing is off limits … from why one sibling shouldn’t watch a certain movie on Netflix to how the other should organize his bedroom. When arguments get out of hand, the parents take what they call the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ approach: Both children get punished, even if just one was trying to control.”

Hawkins’s young children exhibit the kind of behavior that older siblings increasingly push into their digital lives: the use of smartphones to monitor their brothers and sisters such as with location-based app at top of the toolbox.

The trend ranges from preteens all the way up to 40-year-old bachelors, apparently: The Journal caught up with a man who dropped in to a restaurant to see his brother, who was on a first date. The men pretended it was coincidental, but it was in fact intended to relieve pressure!

On social media, Mom and Dad might be friends with their daughter on Facebook or Instagram, but they don’t see the app as she sees it: a stream complete with the posts, retweets and replies of a full — and many times private — social circle.

Siblings, on the other hand, might have greater access. They’re more likely to follow friends of their brothers and sisters on social media and have a more complete picture of what transcends our kids’ digital worlds into real life, the Journal reported.

Combine that with the family locator technology, which shows everyone’s location on a map (even the parents, if they choose), and siblings are armed with more information than ever before.

Jonathan Caspi, an expert on sibling relationships, told the newspaper that the cause may be rooted in “intimacy imbalance,” or the desire of one sibling to feel more connected with the other.

An expert on sibling relationships told The Wall Street Journal that helicopter siblings may be rooted in “intimacy imbalance,” or the desire of one sibling to feel more connected with the other.

There’s a huge tie-in with parents here, as well: Other experts pointed out in the Journal piece that siblings may turn to sibling-hovering because they feel overly controlled by a parent, because they’re modeling their parents’ behavior or because they’re trying to manage stress. This comes at a time when 15 percent of grade-school age children are left in the care of their sibling, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Clearly, each sibling pair will defy classification. If one sibling is merely gathering information to use against the other, that can quickly erode trust. Of course, armed with information parents may not have, siblings can act as interpreters of day-to-day drama, keeping both sides from misunderstanding.

They can also keep secrets, too. So is a helicopter sibling a parent’s dream come true?

There are too many variables for a straight answer. So much depends on the family dynamic. But parents should be aware that their good or bad behavior could spur a helicopter sibling, and that a dominant sibling is going to alter what trust — and authority — looks like in your home.

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