Half- or stepsiblings bad for teens' school grades, behaviour

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Washington, Apr 23 : Teens who stay with half- or stepsiblings end up faring terribly in their exams and also have school-related behaviour problems, which may not improve with time, a leading Sociology professor has suggested.

This unique study by Kathryn Harker Tillman, the Florida State University Assistant Professor of Sociology, was centred on the composition of the entire family unit.

She assessed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative study of more than 11,000 adolescents in grades 7 through 12 in the United States.

"These findings imply that family formation patterns that bring together children who have different sets of biological parents may not be in the best interests of the children involved. Yet one-half of all American stepfamilies include children from previous relationships of both partners, and the majority of parents in stepfamilies go on to have additional children together," said Tillman.

The results indicated that all stepfamilies are not equal, as far as their impact on children's academic performance is concerned. Astonishingly, teens belonging to the complex family arrangement, i.e. those with both half- and stepsiblings fare better than those living with only stepsiblings or only half-siblings.

Tillman owed this to the parents' decision in such families to have a biological child together indicating their preference towards child rearing. But only 1 percent of youth in the study lived in this so-called complex blended sibling composition.

Both boys and girls living with half- or stepsiblings had lower grades than those living with only full siblings. But here girls living with half- or stepsiblings had better scores than those with boys belonging to similar families. Boys and girls in these types of families also had more school behavioural problems, such as trouble paying attention, getting homework done and getting along with teachers and other students.

She also said: "We cannot assume that over time, children will naturally 'adjust' to the new roles and relationships that arise when families are blended. 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."

She explained that stepfamily life becomes difficult for young people due to complexity, ambiguity and stress linked to having non-traditional siblings living in the same home. Also, stepsiblings living together may be prone to more competition for parental time, attention and resources than full siblings.

She further said that besides 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. This also leads to a decline in the amount of attention and supervision children receive from the biological parent along with their step-parents.

Also, both biological parents and stepparents were actually found to providing less support for children's education when they are living in a stepfamily.

"Lower social and financial investments may signal to children a lack of parental interest and lower expectations for academic achievement and college attendance. In turn, youth in stepfamilies may be less likely to get academic assistance when needed, less likely to work for higher grades and more likely to act out at school," she said.

The study is published in the journal Social Science Research.

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