To better understand why siblings growing up in the same family are often as different as unrelated individuals, this study explored the role of differential experiences with parents in the development of sibling differences. Cross-lagged models tested directions of effect by examining whether differential parent-child conflict predicted sibling differences in risky behavior over time, or vice versa. Participants were mothers, fathers, and the 2 eldest adolescent siblings (mean ages at Time 1 = 15.12 and 12.58 years) from 355 European American, working- and middle-class families. On 3 occasions over a 2-year period, mothers and fathers reported on their conflict with each of the 2 siblings, and siblings reported on their own risky behavior. Results revealed that, controlling for sibling age differences and average levels of conflict and risky behavior at Time 1, youths who had more conflict with their mothers and fathers in relation to their siblings subsequently engaged in relatively more risky behavior. Also, youths who engaged in more risky behavior in relation to their siblings experienced relatively more conflict with their fathers, but not mothers, at later time points. Findings highlight the importance of examining both family dynamics and child characteristics in understanding sibling differentiation, and illuminate potential differences in parenting processes involving mothers versus fathers.
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