I’ve read a few articles recently where researchers are using various games, market trends, and virtual reality in order to assess human behavior. In this article, the researchers used an economic game theory in order to examine how a parent disciplines their children. The study determined parents are more likely to be stricter with older children (particularly teens) if there are younger children in the house. This is due to a desire to “develop a reputation” with the younger children, or “set an example.” However, the study also found that as time passes, and the younger children reach their teens, the parents typically lose their resolve. There is less of a desire to achieve a “disciplinarian” reputation, particularly since the older children may already have moved out of the house. This will often lead to the youngest children being the biggest risk takers, as they become aware of the tendency to discipline less over time. Statistical data was also examined to bolster the point.
I think this study tends to fall into the “confirming what we already knew” file. Again, not every family will fall into this pattern, but a common refrain one hears from people who were the older children of a family is, “I never got away with what you got away with.” And rarely does the younger family member disagree, at least in my experience. I can also relate to this problem as a parent - it is very difficult to hold to the exact same expectations set up based on age. As just one example, my younger child will end up watching things on television I would not allow my older child to watch until he was older. Guilty as charged. Part of it is the convenience factor, part of it is learning to relax, once you’ve gone through an age bracket with your first child, and you learn what is and isn’t appropriate. Who suffers the most from this process? Not sure. The older child may end up more rigid, structured, and possibly anxious. On the other hand, the younger children don’t get that structure, and may lack self-discipline if the situation was severe. I guess if you’re doing a decent job as a parent most of the time, this other stuff will ultimately be secondary in terms of your child’s development.