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Essay/Term paper: Birth order

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Psychology

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Does birth order have an
effect on personality? Does being first born make people more responsible?
If someone is the middle born child, are they going to be more rebellious?
If people are last born are they more likely to be on television? Are first
born children inconsiderate and selfish or reliable and highly motivated?
These, and many other questions are being thoroughly studied by psychologists
(Harrigan, 1992). In 1923, the renowned psychiatrist Dr. Alfred Adler, wrote
that a person's position in the family leaves an undeniable "stamp" on his
or her "style of life" (Marzollo, 1990). Research has shown that birth order
does indeed affect a child; however, it does not automatically shape personality.
If it did, life would be much more predictable and a great deal less interesting
(Marzollo, 1990). Yogi Bera, a famous baseball player, said "Every now and
then a reporter who thinks he is Freud asks me if being the youngest is why
I made it (playing professional baseball). I almost alw
ays say yes, but
I don't think it had anything to do with it" (Harrigan, 1992).
Birth order
doesn't explain everything about human behavior. Personality is affected by
many different factors, such as heredity, family size, the spacing and sex
of siblings, education, and upbringing. However, there is an awful lot of
research and plain old "law of averages" supporting the affect of birth order
on personality (Leman, 1985). There are four basic classifications of birth
order: the oldest, the only, the middle, and the youngest. Each has its own
set of advantages, as well as its own set of disadvantages. While the birth
order factor isn't always exact, it does give many clues about why people are
the way they are (Leman, 1985).
If there is one word that describes first
born children it would be "perfectionist" (Harrigan, 1992). First born children
tend to be high achievers in whatever they do. Some traits customarily used
to label first born children include reliable, conscientious, list maker, well
organized, critical, serious, scholarly (Leman, 1985), self-assured, good leadership
ability, eager to please, and nurturing (Brazelton, 1994). Also, first born
children seem to have a heightened sense of right and wrong. It is common
in most books about birth order that first born children get more press than
only, middle, and youngest children. This can be explained by the fact that
the first born child is typically the success story in the family. They are
the ones that are extremely driven to succeed in "high achievement" fields
such as science, medicine, or law (Leman, 1985). For example, of the first
twenty-three astronauts sent into outer space, twenty-one were first born or
their close cousin, the only child, which we w
ill discuss later on. In fact,
all seven astronauts in the original Mercury program were first born children
(Leman, 1985). Also, first born children tend to choose careers that involve
leadership. For example, fifty-two percent of all U.S. presidents were first-borns
(Lanning, 1991). Researchers say that, in general, first born children tend
to have higher IQs than younger siblings. This is not because they start off
more intelligent, but because of the amount of attention new parents give to
their first child (Marzollo, 1990). Experts claim that a first born's will
to succeed begins in infancy (Lanning, 1991). The extraordinary love affair
that many new parents have with their first child leads to the kind of intensity
that can probably never be repeated with a younger child. In the first few
weeks, a new parent imitates the baby's gestures in a playful game. A rhythm
is established by mimicry of vocalizations, motions, and smiles. Think what
this cycle of action-reaction might mean to an infant:
"I'm pretty powerful,
aren't I? Everything I do is copied by someone who cares about me ." After
a couple of weeks of game playing the infant develops a sense of "I recognize
you!" (Brazelton, 1994). This special parent-child interaction helps to instill
a deep sense of self-worth in first born children. In short, the parents put
their first born child on a pedestal or throne. Also, new parents are convinced
that their child is the cleverest child in the world when he or she rolls over
or says "Mama" or "Dada" (Jabs, 1987). Even though the child is a baby it
can still sense the profound sense of enthusiasm. So, first borns want to
maintain their parents' attention and approval (Lanning, 1991). This is when
the arrival of a second child is often a crisis for the first child. They
are knocked off their pedestal by the baby (Leman, 1989). They are no longer
the center of mom and dad's attention. This often causes them to become resentful
toward their younger sibling.
To reclaim the position at the center of their
parents' attention, he or she will try imitating the baby. When the first
child realizes that his or her parents frown upon a two-year-old who wants
a bottle or a three-year-old who needs a diaper, he or she decides to aid
his or her parents in caring for the younger child (Jabs, 1987). Parents usually
tend to reinforce the older child's decision to be more adult by expecting
him or her to set a good example for the younger child. These experiences
help to make the first born a natural leader. However, first borns are sometimes
so preoccupied with being good and doing things right that they forget how
to enjoy life and be a kid (Jabs, 1987).
Along with being the first child
comes pressure. Each achievement becomes a miracle in a new parent's eyes.
However, when a mistake occurs it is viewed as an enormous failure in the
child's eyes because their parents weren't ecstatic, and so the child goes
to enormous lengths to make his or her parents happy with their performance.
Some parents may also burden the child with their own unfulfilled dreams and
with setting the standard for the younger children (Brazelton, 1994). Norval
D. Glenn, Ph. D., professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin,
explains that firstborns often suffer from pseudomaturity. They may act grown-up
throughout childhood, but because their role models are grown-ups rather than
older siblings, they may tend to reject the role of leader in early adulthood
(Marzollo, 1990). Also, a firstborn is not always "the most gracious receiver
of criticism". An adult's constant criticism of his or her performance may
cause the child to become a worried perfectionist. They m
ay come to fear
making mistakes before eyes that he or she feels are always watching them.
First born children may also come to hate any kind of criticism because it
emphasizes the faults that he or she is trying to overcome (Marzollo, 1990).

The first born child does not have unlimited time to view himself as the
child in the relationship with parents. When a sibling arrives, he or she
tends to eliminate the view of himself or herself as a child and he or she
struggles to be "parental" (Forer, 1969). In short, the first born child will
do anything to make everything perfect.
In addition to the labels mentioned
before, first born children also tend to be goal-oriented, self-sacrificing,
people-pleasers, conservative, supporters of law and order, believer in authority
and ritual, legalistic, loyal, and self-reliant. They are often achievers,
the ones who are driven toward success and stardom in their given fields (Leman,
1985). First born children can be found in great numbers in positions like
accountants, bookkeepers, executive secretaries, engineers, and, in recent
years, people whose jobs involve computers. First borns typically choose a
career that involves precision and requires a strong power of concentration
(Leman, 1985). Some first borns that have gone on to become famous leaders,
actors, scientists, novelists, astronauts, etc. include Mikhail Gorbachev (Russian
leader), Jimmy Carter (president), Henry Kissinger (diplomat), Albert Einstein
(scientist), Sally Ride (astronaut), Bill Cosby (actor), John Glenn (astronaut,
senator), Steven Spielberg (producer), Joan Colli
ns (actress), Clint Eastwood
(actor), Peter Jennings (TV journalist), and Bruce Springsteen (singer) (Jabs,
1987; Lanning, 1991; Marzollo, 1990).
In many ways, the only child is like
the first born child. An only child is a first born child who never loses
his or her parents' undivided attention. He or she benefits greatly from his
or her parents' enthusiastic attention, as long as it isn't too critical.
The only child also tends to have the first child's heightened sense of right
and wrong (Jabs, 1987). Leman's "perfect" description of the "Lonely Only"
include all the labels that were included with the first born child. However,
preceding each word would be the prefix super (Leman, 1985). Where the first
born child is organized, the only child is superorganized. Where the first
born child is a perfectionist, the only child is a superperfectionist. Labels
that are often applied to only children include spoiled, selfish, lazy, and
a bit conceited. These labels tend to be applied because only children don't
have to share with other siblings like the first, middle, or youngest children.
Dr. Alfred Adler, a famous psychologist, said that "The
Only Child has difficulties
with every independent activity and sooner or later they become useless in
life." However, most birth order experts, as well as myself, being an only
child, disagree with Dr. Adler and the labels given to an only child. (Leman,
1989). Far from being people who are used to having things handed to them
all their lives, only children are among the top achievers in every area of
profession. For example some of the more famous only children include Franklin
D. Roosevelt (president), Leonardo da Vinci (artist), Charles Lindbergh (pilot),
Ted Koppel (TV journalist), Brooke Shields (model, actress), Nancy Reagan (first-lady),
Frank Sinatra (singer), Danielle Steel (novelist), and John Updike (novelist)
(Jabs, 1987; Leman, 1989).
A problem that only children tend to have is when
eager parents interfere with their child's development. For example, new
parents tend to jump in too early to help the child with everything he or she
tries. They can't sit back and let the child struggle. What they don't realize
is that frustration is a powerful learning tool. When a child fights to master
a task and succeeds on his or her own, their face lights up with pride. "I
did it myself." If a parent tends to jump in to help at every little problem,
then the child could lose his or her will to try to do things by their self.
children seem to be very on top of things, articulate, and mature. They appear
to have it all together. Yet, often there is an internal struggle going on.
Their standards have always been set by adults and are often high, sometimes
too high. Only children regularly have a hard time enjoying their achievements.
They feel as if they can never do anything good enough. Even if they succeed,
they often feel as though they didn't succeed by enough. This is usually the
start of what experts call the "discouraged perfectionist" (Leman, 1985).
Also, many other special problems may develop with only children. These problems
are often classified as only children, who are "problem children." For example,
the "special jewel" or "receiver" child often has a problem with the heliocentric
theory that states that our solar system revolves around the sun. The special
jewel or receiver child believes that the entire universe revolves around him
or her. This type of child generally develops when the parents gi
ve in to
their child's every wish. It is important for this child's parents to say
no. If the child says, "Mom, I want that !", her mother should respond by
saying, "No, I will not buy that for you, but you may purchase it with money
you have earned yourself." Once these children realize that they are dealing
with someone who won't cave in to their every demand they become quite pleasant
(Leman, 1989). Another "problem child" is the "friend-snatcher". The child
who never learns to share his or her toys, will also have a problem with sharing
friends as well. They become agitated when their friend tries to include other
people into the pair's activities. They may try to bribe their "friend" by
offering them toys, food, and maybe even money. For this problem, experts
suggest confronting the child by proposing, that mabye, the reason he or she
is not having very good relationships with his or her friends is because he
or she is not willing to share friends with anyone. Suggest that they need
to try doin
g activities with more than two people and that they need to stop
being so posessive (Leman, 1989).
Next is the "target" child. This child
also has a problem with the heliocentric theory. This child magnifies his
or her importance in every situation and beleives he or she is the one being
singled out for unfair treatment. When life is unfair, as it often is, he
can sink into deep depression and bitterness. For example, if a teacher gives
them an "F" on a world history test, it's because the teacher doesn't like
them and not because they didn't do a good job (Leman, 1989). These are often
problems of an only children who has been sheltered from society by their overprotective
parents. Those who are well adjusted know from an early age that life is a
mixture of good and bad (Leman, 1989).
Middle children are the hardest to
classify because they are so dependant different variables, including the personalities
of their older and younger siblings and the number of years between them (Marzollo,
1990). "What happens to middle children depends on the total family dynamics,"
says Dr. Jeannie Kidwell, family therapist and research scholar (Jabs, 1987).
Middle children can be shy or outgoing, reckless or responsible, uptight or
laid back (Lanning, 1991). Any number of life-styles can appear, but they
all play off the first born (Leman, 1985). He or she may try to imitate the
first-born's behavior. If they feel that they can't match up, they may go
off in another direction, looking for their identity, often in the exact opposite
of that taken by his or her older sibling. The general conclusion of all research
studies done on birth order is that second borns will probably be somewhat
the opposite of first born children (Leman, 1985). In general, middle born
children suffer from an identity cris
is. They are always striving to be
different from their older and younger siblings. Middle children feel that
they are born too late to get the privileges and special treatment that firstborns
seem to inherit by right and born too early to enjoy the relaxing of the disciplinary
reins, which is sometimes translated as "getting away with murder" (Marzollo,
1990). Neither the achiever nor the baby, the middle child may feel that he
or she has no particular role in the family. They may look outside the family
to define themselves. This is why friends become very important to middle
children (Marzollo, 1990).
Middle children search to find their own identity
and define their personality. Because middle children have to fight for their
parents' attention, they become highly competitive. This generally makes middle
children more successful in sports. Lacking the benefit of the exceptions
parents make for their first borns and last borns, middle children may learn
to negotiate, to compromise, and to give and take, valuable skills that will
help them succeed (Marzollo, 1990). They can become effective managers and
leaders because they are good listeners and can cope with varying points of
view. Also, experts have found that because middle children have had to struggle
for more things than their siblings they are better prepared for real life.
One big plus for middle children is a well developed sense of empathy because
they know what it's like to be younger and older. However, all the competing
and negotiating may cause middle children to have an overall low self esteem
and a self-deprecating attitude (Marzoll
o, 1990).
Nevertheless, middle children
have many advantages. They can learn from the older sibling but can also regress
to be like the younger one, doubling their learning opportunities. Yet, they
may also have many mood swings between grown-up and baby-like behavior, especially
during the teen age years (Brazelton, 1994). Leman (1989) says to "Remember,
the average teenager has only two emotional outbursts per year. The problem
is they last about six months each."
Because slightly more than one third
of American families today have only two children, many parents find themselves
thinking in terms of the first born and second born. Middle and second born
children share many of the same characteristics. Like the middle child, the
second-born is likely to search for ways to be different from the first-born
child (Marzollo, 1990). Dr. Kidwell says, "Problems arise when a family has
very rigid expectations." If the only thing that matters is straight A's and
the first kid is doing that, the middle kid has a profound dilemma. He or
she needs something else to be known for (Jabs, 1987, p.29). Some famous middle
and second children who have found their own identity include Bea Arthur (actress),
Glenn Close (actress), Matt Dillon (actor), Linda Evans (actress), Jessica
Lange (actress), Cyndi Lauper (singer), Tom Selleck (actor), Mary Decker Slaney
(runner), Richard Nixon (president), Princess Diana (British royalty), George
Burns (comedian), Bob Hope (comedian) (Jabs, 1
987; Marzollo, 1990).
a group of psychologists randomly picked out ten youngest born children, chances
are that nine of them would have these characteristics: manipulative, charming,
blames others, shows off, people person, good salesperson, precocious, engaging,
and sometimes spoiled (Leman, 1985). By the time the youngest child is born,
his or her parents have become veterans in the field of child care (Lanning,
1991). They are more experienced and confident in their parenting practices,
and so they often decide to let the last born enjoy childhood as long as they
can (Marzollo, 1990). This is why youngest children tend to be more pampered
than older siblings. The youngest or "baby" of the family is often given an
extra dose of affection and attention, as well as an occasional exception from
the rules (Marzollo, 1990). This extremely positive upbringing helps to contribute
to the youngest child's fun-loving, affectionate, and persuasive behavior (Marzollo,
1990). The youngest child can grow up to feel the most tre
asured, and the
most nurtured of all (Brazelton, 1994). Also, without the pressure of a younger
sibling gaining from behind, the youngest may grow up easy going and carefree
(Jabs, 1987). However, life isn't all fun and games for the family baby.
The endless praise of last born children may leave them feeling that their
families do not take them seriously (Marzollo, 1990). For instance, a common
youngest child remark would be, "If I get upset or try to state my opinion,
nobody takes me seriously. To them, I'm the baby. They think I don't know
a whole lot," (Lanning, 1991). Youngest children often have feelings of insecurity
or long periods of self-doubt (Lanning, 1991). For example, a youngest child
grows up being coddled one minute as a darling little baby, but the next minute
she's compared unfavorably with an older sibling. He or she is often unfairly
compared with older and stronger siblings.
According to Beverly Hills-based
psychiatrist Carole Lieberman, M.D., the self-image of the youngest child may
become confused (Lanning, 1991). As a result of conflicting experiences,
youngest children can be extremely self-confident in someways and insecure
in others (Leman, 1985). For the most part, youngest children learn to cope
with the problems of self-doubt. In fact, youngest children often go on to
become quite successful, thanks in part to their originality and determination
to prove themselves to the world (Lanning, 1991). Often, they express their
unique view of the world through the visual or literary arts. People-pleasing
fields, such as art, comedy, entertainment and sales are full of youngest children
(Lanning, 1991). Some examples of famous youngest children include Ronald
Reagan (president, actor), Eddie Murphy (comedian), Paul Newman (actor), Mary
Lou Retton (gymnast), Billy Crystal (comedian), Yogi Bera (baseball player),
Ted Kennedy (politician), and Kevin Leman (psychologist)

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