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Gender-Role Development - Influence of Sibling Dynamic and Interaction

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Gender-Role Development: Influence of Sibling Dynamic and Interaction

The topic of gender-role development in children is one that has been heavily researched. The gender-role development of a child is how they develop a sense of what is socially considered typical of a male or female, and applying that to their own gender based behavior (Volkom 2003). There are many aspects of society, which act as variables that contribute to the development of a child's gender-role identity. Some of which include family dynamic, economical background, ethnicity and religion. While all variables are important, the focus of this exploration concentrates on the influence of siblings on gender-role development. Recently there has been an increased focus in research examining the impact of siblings on children's gender-role development. The results of these types of studies support the idea that siblings do in fact influence the gender-role development of children (McHale, Updegraff, Helms-Erikson & Crouter 2001).

There are numerous elements, within context and findings, in regards to this topic, that are consistent throughout various studies. It is important to note that for the purpose of control when referring to previous findings, the studies that will be used as references sources' throughout this exploration are selected with attention to similar methodology and parameters. Each study, while conducted independently, share key aspects in regard to the selection of participants, and methodology. The targeted age group is middle childhood through early adolescence, ages 6-12. The sibling dynamic involves both cross-sex and same-sex siblings. Furthermore the families of the child participants are selected with the specifications of married heterosexual parents who are both employed. The family's come from middles class economic backgrounds in both urban and rural areas. By accommodating consistent constraints among each reference study, the information provided by these studies will serve as reliable support for the premise of this exploration.

When researching the gender-role development of children it is necessary to keep in mind there are a few variables still present, worthy of being noted, even when focusing on the influence of siblings. Firstly, it is important to know that the sex of an individual is different from the gender of an individual. The sex of an individual is the biological make up of their reproductive organs, which is innate at birth. The gender of an individual is their awareness of being male or female; the gender of a person is not entirely dependent on their sex (Siegler, DeLoache & Eisenberg 2011). Secondly, when focusing on siblings it is important to remember other family members, such as parents and guardians, influence the relationship between siblings. The gender-role ideals of the parents may influence that of their children. The parent's treatment of their children will also determine the siblings' ability to interact (McHale, Updegraff, Helms-Erikson & Crouter 2001).

The researchers of these studies focus their observations on certain areas within the sibling relationship and dynamic. Sibling interactions differ depending on a few general variables. Among the selected studies, there are common themes, which affect the socialization of siblings. The themes that are most relevant for this exploration are birth order, sex of siblings, and ability to interpret gender-role behavior through interactive play and observation.

One aspect is the birth order of sibling pairs. Researchers have found that in regards to sibling influence on gender-role development, the older siblings have different involvement and experiences than the younger siblings. When looking at the impact of siblings on gender-role development, it is the younger siblings that are more affected by the sibling relationship for various reasons (McHale, Updegraff, Helms-Erikson & Crouter 2001).

Findings that are consistent with social learning theory predictions indicate that younger siblings tend to view older siblings as role models. Older siblings can serve as a reliable source of advice for younger siblings. Unlike parents older siblings are more accessible, relatable and potentially admirable. While parents are also a source of advice siblings have the appeal as non-disciplinary figures (McHale, Updegraff, Helms-Erikson & Crouter 2001). The sibling relationship opens more opportunities for siblings to confide in one another, and form a strong emotional bond. When this is applied to the topic of gender-role development, younger siblings tend to model their own gender-based behavior off of their older siblings. Through observation and imitation younger siblings associate certain behaviors with either male or female typical behavior (Volkom 2003).

A significant area of sibling interaction involves the use of roles during activities. Commonly during play siblings will take on complementary roles such as teacher/learner, manager/managed, helper/helped (Stoneman, Brody & MacKinon 1986), (Volkom 2003). Stoneman, Brody and MacKinon stated that in order for children to engage in smooth predictable social interactions, they must exhibit expected social exchanges within the complementary roles. According to sibling literature it is important to sibling socialization for siblings to take part in complementary role-play (Stoneman, Brody & MacKinon 1986). Children learn not only about the role they are playing but also about the complementary role. This sort of social interaction can reap developmental outcomes (Stoneman, Brody & MacKinon 1986).

The results of researchers observations reveal the role asymmetries between younger and older siblings. The older siblings typically take the manager, teacher and helper role while the younger takes the opposite (Stoneman, Brody & MacKinon 1986) (Volkom 2003) This phenomena was especially present among same-sex siblings and even more so among female same-sex sibling dyads( Stoneman, Brody & MacKinon 1986).

Moving on to the theme of the sex of siblings and how the sex of siblings can influence gender-role development. According to Brim (1958), sibling's relationships involve an assimilation of roles in which certain elements of a role of one sibling, is incorporated into the role structure of the other (Stoneman, Brody & MacKinon 1986). When this concept is applied to same-sex siblings, their gender-role behaviors becomes more stereotypically sex typed. The same concept applied to cross-sex siblings results in mixed sex role behavior ultimately cause more androgynous gender-role behavior (Stoneman, Brody & MacKinon 1986).

Interestingly, due to social standards, females are more likely to adopt gender atypical behaviors, while males are more likely

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