When I was in middle school, my older sister took me shopping for makeup. At the time, I didn’t have much interest in it, but my sister had started wearing eyeshadow and blush and thought I should wear it too. I handed over my entire week’s allowance to the cashier for a blue eyeshadow kit that I didn’t know how to use but desperately wanted to wear to be as cool as my sister.
This summer, I’ve seen the same pattern with my youngest son. He wants to be a part of everything his brother is doing. His brother is four years older and in college. So are his brother’s friends. That makes everything they do or say intriguing.
Some days, I’m thrilled that my older son includes his younger brother when he goes with friends to the beach or the gym. However, sometimes I worry about it, and I even try to discourage it. There’s a big difference between high school and college and the conversations that take place among boys about drinking and girls and parties and “hooking up.” When my older son wanted to go play poker with his friends and invited his younger brother to come along, I wouldn’t let him go. I encouraged the younger one to make plans with friends his own age.
As a parent, I now see from a different perspective how much a younger sibling can look up to an older sibling the good and bad that goes along with it. Inevitably, a younger sibling will be more advanced because of an older sibling’s influence. But I’m struggling with when that’s okay and when it isn’t.
Should you let your younger daughter wear makeup or high heels at an early age because she sees her older sister doing it? Should you let your younger daughter in middle school go to a high school party with her older brother?
These are tough judgment calls for parents of teens. The influence of older siblings is undeniable, and that can be good . However, there are privileges and age-appropriate behaviors that will come to younger siblings in time and it’s sometimes it takes tough parenting to make them realize they aren’t ready for them yet.
A few years ago, my younger son begged to go with his older brother to an R-rated movie. I would never have said yes to my older son when he was the same age. But with both boys begging, I caved. When my younger son came home talking about the explicit sex scenes, I realized I had made a mistake. I want to protect my younger child’s innocence and often find doing so is a battle that’s hard to win.
Over time, I’m learning that it’s OK for parents to treat their individual children differently, especially where age differences are concerned. My 19-year-old son has earned the right to stay out until 1 p.m. on a weekend. My 15-year-old son has not. I’ve had to explain to him that one day, he will get the privilege, too. Of course, that doesn’t sit well with him.
What are your thoughts on the influence of older siblings? Should parents be worried about the effect that older children and their older interests have on young siblings? How have you handled the dynamics in your house, especially when a younger child is expressing interest in something that is not age-appropriate?