"Get out of my room, you idiot!" "Shut up." "Give me back my iPod right now." "I'm gonna tell Mom!" With every outburst and door slam, your blood pressure rises. Sibling spats have grown into a virtual blood sport and you don't know if you should run interference or head for safer ground.
"The old thinking was, kids fought to get a reaction from their parents. So stay out of it," says Susan McHale, professor of human development at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. Now the belief is that kids need more than that from us. "As siblings get older, they find more sophisticated ways of tormenting each other. It's crucial that parents pay attention to this kind of hurtful behavior because it can have a far-reaching impact on self-esteem and the relationship siblings have with others," says Laurie Kramer, PhD, professor and director of the Family Resiliency Center at University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
This doesn't mean that we should start acting as referees for our kids -- determining who's out of bounds, punishing perpetrators, and squelching arguments altogether. "When parents intervene in this authoritarian way, kids end up fighting more," says McHale. "They also never learn to resolve conflict on their own -- with each other or with others in their lives."
Instead parents should aim to act as a coach, gently guiding kids through their conflicts when the kids can't work it out themselves, while also helping them hone the skills they need to communicate. "If parents change their approach to conflict, the kids will do the same," says Vikki Stark, MSW, a family therapist in Montreal and author of My Sister, Myself (McGraw-Hill Companies).
The following are common problems that adolescents clash over, along with expert advice on what you can do to help your opposing players declare a cease fire and come together as a team.