Left Behind: Three Common Issues Younger Siblings Encounter When An Older Sibling Leaves For College

For households with two or more children, the oldest child's high school graduation and upcoming college admission are new and exciting events for the entire family. This transition period is saturated with emotion, not only for the oldest child about to start college, but also for the younger siblings left behind. Usually, the younger siblings adjust to the older sibling's departure without incident, but sometimes, younger siblings have a difficult time adapting to this event.

Feelings of Loss

In many instances, the younger sibling does not realize how much of an impact the older sibling had until that older sibling leaves as a college freshman. For children particularly attached to the older sibling, this period can elicit feelings of loss and depression. This is especially apparent in households where one or both parents were frequently at work; in these cases, the older sibling served as a parental figure for the younger. Furthermore, while the older sibling adjusts to college life, forges new friendships, and grows increasingly busy with classwork and extracurricular activities, the younger sibling fades further and further into the background.

Tips for Parents: Encourage the older sibling to keep in touch with the younger sibling, and vice versa. Technological advances have opened a variety of methods for siblings to keep in touch with each other, even on the go. Sometimes, college freshmen become so engrossed in their new lives that they fail to realize how much time has passed since the last time they had a meaningful conversation with their younger siblings. If the younger sibling seems depressed or without a positive role model to take the place of the older sibling, schedule an appointment with a child counselor or psychologist.

Trading High School for College Life

For younger siblings in high school, visiting the older sibling in college can turn into a wild and parent-free weekend. Drug and alcohol use among college students is on the rise, and for many freshmen, this is the first time that they have encountered these substances. The older sibling may want to show the younger sibling a "good time," but this can have some dangerous legal and health consequences for both the older and younger sibling. 

Tips for Parents: Talk to both the older and younger sibling about drug and alcohol use, and place restrictions on your younger sibling's college visit, like scheduling phone check-ins. If your oldest child is not mature enough to chaperon the younger sibling, do not allow the younger sibling to spend the night. If you suspect that either the older or younger child is abusing drugs or alcohol or may be struggling with addiction, seek a professional counselor as these are serious circumstances.

The Green-Eyed Monster

If the older sibling was accepted to a prestigious university, this accomplishment may be met with hostility by a less academically-gifted younger sibling. If the younger sibling wants to apply to college but does not have the grades to get in, or is upset about living at home until high school graduation, that younger sibling may be harboring jealousy because the older sibling is living independently. Rebellious teenagers may be especially tempted to challenge parental authority because of the mismatch of independence between the two siblings.

Tips for Parents: The older sibling's college career can serve as a great motivator for younger siblings who lack the dedication or motivation to do well in school. Help the younger sibling see first-hand that the older sibling worked hard for and earned this increased independence. If you spin college as a "ticket out" of childhood and life under parental rule, the younger sibling may place more emphasis on school and good grades in an effort to also attend college. Do your best to support the younger sibling's endeavors; if the younger sibling struggles from a learning disorder, poor vision, or another academic-inhibiting health issue, schedule an appointment for your child so that school is not harder than it should be.

For more information or help getting through the teenage years, contact a company like Living Hope Clinic.