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Only Child Essay, Research Paper

It seems as though our society has placed a negative association with being

an only child. Many people consider these children to be at some sort of disadvantage.

Research on this subject is mixed on this type of family situation. Therefore, I will cover

a range of areas concerning only children. I have learned a new term associated with being

an only child. The term is “onlies”, referring to the child as being the only child in the

family. First, I will look at how trends and ideas about family size have changed.

Second, I will discuss why more parents are choosing to have only one child and

what they can gain from making this decision. Third I will look at the myths that

surround being an only child. Then I will focus on the differences of only children

and children who have siblings, and then I will close. With this in mind let’s turn

our attention toward the changing size of the family unit.

Although there were exceptions, in most cases if a couple had an only child,

something had intervened to prevent them from adding to their family. Was there

something wrong with the child, something wrong in the marriage, or something wrong

with the mother or father. In the past there were many reasons why people felt the need

to have more than one child. Some of this reasons were: isolation, fear of the spread of

disease, the polio scare. Today children are immunized against most childhood diseases

and antibiotics are available for less serious illnesses. High mortality rates were also a

factor in previous decades. Today we are not faced with the threat that took many young

lives, such as smallpox and influenza. Not to long ago people had children for economic

gain. They used the extra bodies to harvest the crops and milk the cows. Today there is

no economic advantage to having a larger family.

More parents are choosing to have only one child due to changing family patterns

and economic concerns. New roles for women have also contributed to parents

choosing the option of having only one child. In respect to the changing family pattern,

divorce rates are at the 50 percent range, higher than ever before, and the tendency

for couples to marry later in life have also contributed to shorter marriages and the

potential for fewer children. In the realm of economic concerns, the fear of unemployment,

inflation, and reduced family income are playing a role in the trend toward parents

choosing to have smaller families. The majority of women are now employed before

they have children. The benefits of this added income and involvement in careers

may lead women to delay having children, therefore they will usually have a smaller

family. Parents can gain many advantages from choosing to have only one child.

There is reduced conflict in dividing time and attention among children, greater

financial flexibility, and an even more closely knit family unit. With this understanding

of why families are choosing to have only one child, let’s direct our attention toward

some myths that surround being an only child.

A family that had only one child was once long thought to produce special problems

for the family and child. The “onlies” were viewed as selfish, egotistical, dependent,

lonely, and unsociable. All this was assumed because they lacked the influence of

siblings and got too much parental attention. These stereotypes and others have formed

many of our nations notions about only children. Enlightened information, as we will see

exists, but it has been slow to penetrate our society. As I said earlier, I am constantly

amazed by how most people seem to think that there is something wrong with having

only one child. Dr. Toni Falbo (1986, p.53) one of the country’s leading authorities on

only children, suggests one reason why stereotypes linger is because human beings don’t

like to think too deeply. When we think about other people, there’s too much

information, too much variation. In order to cut down on the mental work, we tend to

categorize and ignore pieces of information. We assume we know more than we actually

do. We say, Oh, only children are like that. Let’s look at some myths that have

contributed to such stereotyping.

It is a misfortune that there are so many myths that surround the only child. The

opinions of many past experts do not stand up to today’s investigations. Let’s look at

some of these myths. MYTH 1: Only children are shy. FACT: J. Kagan (1988, p.167-

171) conducted research of young children who were either extremely inhibited or

uninhibited. Conclusion was that there is a biological base, a predisposition for

childhood shyness. Some of the factors that contribute to shyness in both children and

adults are inherited. Only children were found to be the same in this respect as their

peers who had siblings. MYTH 2: All only children have imaginary companions to

compensate for their loneliness. FACT: Sharryl Hawke and David Knox (1977, p.110)

argue that roughly one third of all children have imaginary friends at some point. They

conclude that unless the child is excluding other children in favor of imaginary

companions, there is no reason to regard the imaginary playmates as unhealthy. MYTH

3: Only children are spoiled. FACT: Psychologists and sociologists state that being

spoiled is a reflection of our society. Expecting that things are coming to you, that you’re

entitled to a lot, is a syndrome of well-to-do middle and upper class children. They are

given the latest toys and computers and get chauffeured from place to place. This applies

to all children, not just only children. MYTH 4: Only children have more emotional

problems, are maladjusted, anxious, and unhappy. FACT: Five studies conducted

between 1927 and 1967 show that only children are actually underrepresented among

psychiatric clients. Dr. Falbo (1983, p.264) states there are no differences in emotional

health among only and non-only children.

There is little to justify all the accusations that only children are mentally

unbalanced, spoiled, lonely, or shy. The reality is that an only child could develop

any of the often attributed stereotypical personality traits, but so could an oldest,

youngest, or middle child. All these social stereotypes exist without any grounding

in reality. Unfortunately, simply because they exist, some people continue to believe

them. By all current accounts, it seems as though past attitudes and current stereotyping

is erroneous. With the reality clear let us now focus on differences of only children

and children who have siblings.

The results of investigations represent some differences between only children

and children who have siblings. The results I will focus on are in the areas of intelligence,

achievement, affiliation, popularity, and self-esteem. Although report findings conflict,

only children, like first-borns, generally have been found to score slightly higher on

measures of intelligence than younger siblings. The results of the testing may be

explained by factors within the family. Such factors for example may be the parents’

providing an enriched intellectual environment. As in intelligence, achievement (both

academic and other kinds) in only and first-born children appears to be slightly greater

than for later-born children. In an attempt to explain, theorists have considered the

relationship between parents and children. Presumably, achievement motivation

originates in the high standards for mature behavior that parents impose on their only and

first-born children.

Though this research represents many findings, it seems to favor the view that

being an only child does not have the detrimental effects that some people assume. The

most current data appear to indicate that only children have a slight edge over children

with siblings on measures of intelligence and achievement and they suffer no serious

interpersonal deficits. With all this information in mind, I will recap the topics in this

paper and make a few comments to end this paper.

In this paper, the following areas were touched on. First, trends and ideas

about why family size is changing were discussed. Second, we noted why more

parents are choosing to have only one child and the gains from this decision.

Third, a few myths were compared with facts on stereotypical views of only children.

Then I closed focusing on the differences of only children and children who have

siblings. In closing, it seems that only children may have some advantages as a result

of their special status. They seem to receive more attention from parents, freedom from

sibling rivalry and comparison, and access to more family resources. They have

the advantage of being the oldest and the youngest child in the family. Research has

indicated that there are no significant differences between adult only children and

adults with siblings in social behaviors from simple interaction skills to civic

involvement. For this reason, the stereotype of the only child may lose credibility.

With all this stated, the truth is, there’s no ideal family, just what’s right for you.


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