04 May 2008

They Must Have All Been on the Honor Roll

Brady Bunch by roadsidepictures CC-BY-NC

I hope not to burst anyone's bubble here, but the Brady kids might not be a representative sample of child behavior in blended families. In fact, Science Daily is reporting that "on average, adolescents living with half- or stepsiblings have lower grades and more school-related behavior problems, and these problems may not improve over time."

"We cannot assume that over time, children will naturally 'adjust' to the new roles and relationships that arise when families are blended," [Tillman] said. "This research indicates that the effects of new stepsiblings or half siblings may actually become more negative over time or, at the least, remain consistently negative."

Part of what makes stepfamily life difficult for young people is the complexity, ambiguity and stress that come with having nontraditional siblings living in the same home, she said. Stepsiblings who are living together may also engage in, or at least perceive, more competition for parental time, attention and resources than full siblings.

In addition to stressful life changes and ambiguous family roles, stepfamily formation leads to the introduction of a new parent-figure who may be less willing or able to invest in a child's development and academic success, Tillman said. Stepparent-child relationships tend to be more conflict ridden than relationships with biological parents, and stepparents tend to offer children less parental support, closeness and supervision. The presence of a stepparent also generally leads to a decline in the amount of attention and supervision children receive from the biological parent with whom they live. (You can read the whole article here.)

I've been trying to think about whether or not my own classroom experiences would provide anecdotal evidence about this study. I have had an abundance of students over the years who had step- or half-siblings. Maybe that is why it is so difficult to call to mind any specific instances...or be able to differentiate enough between students who have grade and/or behaviour issues. Or maybe (right or wrong) when I look at a kid, their family composition isn't among those things which first come to mind.

In the end, I suppose the idea of such a factor on classroom performance becomes one of those "So what?" sorts of things. It's something to be aware of, but I don't have any influence over it. It's not up to me which parents marry and bring kids under one roof. I suppose I just teach them the best I can...and hope they'll defy the odds.

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