You know that I have worked with hundreds of teens over the years. I talk to them in therapy sessions. I travel and talk to groups of teens all over the world. We know that smiling is often considered part of the universal language but according to the teens that I have spoken to so is favoritism. They say that it is alive and well and flourishing in households all over the world.
Over the years there have been debates among experts and parents about whether or not parents really do have favorites and the answers have varied. From my own personal work I would say YES that many parents do have favorites but that the favorite child may vary over time. I was extremely intrigued by the results of a recent study in Child Development that found that the mental health of both the favored and non-favored child was affected adversely in families where there was a clear favorite. This research was conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto and they looked at families with children who were young.
I agree that there can be negative effects of favoritism. The teens who are favored often describe it as experiencing additional pressure. More than one teen has told me that she or he is tired of being told “You are the role model for your brothers and sisters.” Nonetheless, the recent study looked at families in which the favorites and non-favorites were clearly defined. In many families the favorite is not so clearly defined and the kids are merely speculating.
Nonetheless, my takeaway message for parents of teens and children of all other ages is to find the positives in each of your children and celebrate your kids’ differences. There is no benefit associated with turning siblings against each other in their effort to secure the role of “favorite.” Nor, is it good to march through life with a label (favorite or non-favorite) that may influence how you perceive yourself forever.