Dear Straight Talk: I’m the youngest of five siblings with 20 years between my oldest sibling and myself. Because I am considerably younger, I sometimes feel like I don’t fit. I am fairly introverted while they are outspoken, so I have trouble finding my voice. I am funny and smart, but they try to parent me and tell me what to think, do and feel. I’m 18, but they still see me as a child and not equal to them. How do I speak up for myself in such a big, loud family? — Adeline, Los Angeles
Lyric, 16, Santa Rosa: There are positives and negatives to each birth-order “spot.” I’m the oldest of three siblings, and yes, we “oldests” get the cool things first, more freedoms, and we sometimes feel the right tell our younger siblings what to do. One of the negatives is that there’s huge pressure to set a good example, even outshine the others. Although it may feel like your siblings are trying to parent and outshine you, they want you to shine as brightly.
Gregg, 23, Los Angeles: I’m the youngest of two brothers and two cousins, all 5 to 9 years older than me. They are all highly educated with successful careers and interesting hobbies. Sure, I’m funny and smart around my friends, but around them? Honestly, they are way beyond me. I could feel insecure about it, and I’ve had moments, but it’s silly. My advice: When you’re around them, go with the flow — or, do what I do, ask questions and focus on learning from them. When you’re not around them, be YOU! They’re not creating your life, YOU ARE.
Julian, 16, Napa: Do you have a hobby or talent? Try communicating through it. If you play an instrument, maybe write a song about a current issue. Your siblings just want you to avoid their mistakes.
Bronwyn, 15, Santa Rosa: My little brother is always saying that I do everything better than him and he will never live up to my grades or play music as well. This makes me feel awful and I want to help him so he can get those good grades and play better. Please talk to your siblings about how you’re feeling. They might agree that your voice is not heard enough! Ask them to help you find it by asking you questions during family time and drawing you into the conversation.
Peter, 27, Monterey: I can sympathize as I’m also the youngest of a whole mess of kids (Four? Five? 12? I can’t remember... ). My advice: Hold on! In a couple of years their perspective will shift. You’ll strike out on your own or do something particularly adult-like, and they’ll realize you aren’t a child anymore. For now, though, humor them and accept that they care.
Dear Adeline: You are indeed smart — and a great communicator! You have articulated what many younger siblings experience. Share your feelings with a sibling you feel close to who has family pull. The effects of birth order are significant and families are wise to learn about them. Another common occurrence is that older siblings (driven by the perfectionist expectations of their birth order) dominate an array of societal niches and create family expectations that those niches are the important ones. This can leave younger siblings adrift or operating below potential. Best: Parents get to know each child and nurture their unique gifts, strengths and interests. (Caveat: Not counting video games, device gazing, and mall hopping!) I hope things improve. That said, in life, you must always be ready to water your own garden. Suggested reading: “The Birth Order Book” by Dr. Kevin Leman. — Lauren
Straight Talk is a nonprofit that tackles youth issues with youth advice. Visit www.straighttalktnt.org or write P.O. Box 1974, Sebastopol, CA 95473.