Watch your backs, eldest siblings. For too long have we, the collective community of younger siblings, have sat dutifully as you’ve waxed lyrical about the unique pressures you've faced as the eldest child.
Sure, you’re more likely bound to caretaker and role model duties, and you are often the ‘trial’ child as your parents’ firstborn. But you can drop the pure and innocent act, because I’m a pent-up middle child who remembers things quite differently. I come with backup: hundreds of TikTokers have taken to the platform to share their own ‘older sister trauma’.
While many of these videos are, in hindsight, humorous and purely a reflection of childhood antics, there can be something more serious bubbling beneath the surface.
A study from late 2021 found that young people who are repeatedly bullied by their siblings are more likely to suffer from poor mental health in their later teen years. Interestingly enough, it’s not only the bullied who suffer from this; children who bully their siblings also were found to have poorer mental health outcomes in the following years.
On TikTok, people are torn between whether this trend is a bit of fun, or whether these are serious and scarring situations. On the lighter end, many of the videos are testament to the deep love, trust and awe younger siblings have for their older sisters.
TikTok user @squidneylol shares how she convinced her younger sister (for an entire year!) that her legs would randomly give out, and made her little sister carry her around whenever she decided her legs were ‘giving out’. User @poopyfartzmagee was convinced she was a dog because of her big sister. “She told me that I was part chihuahua and my parents had found me in a trash can and they were gonna give me away at any moment,” she says.
And then there were the made-up ‘games’. TikTok user @victoria_pid shared her experience of the 'massage game’. “Basically I would give her a massage then she would give me a massage but only ‘as good as the one I gave her’. So I would give her the most fabulous, luxurious, wonderful massage then go to wake her up for mine. This bitch played freaken dead. I would shake her as hard as I could and yell at her that it was my turn but she would never wake up. I fell for this every time and never got a massage.”
User @billieamish vented about a similar ‘restaurant game’. “Our agreement was to take turns serving. I made her food. Real food. I waited on her hand and foot. Drinks. Napkins. The works. Once she was done I got so excited because it was my turn to be the guest. That’s when she decided she was done playing and went to her room. So I made food for myself… and ate alone.”
For @bbbiancaaaaaaaa, who played ‘surfboard' with her older sister, a game many commenters were familiar with. “[In the pool,] I was the surfboard and she would stand on my back while I drowned at the bottom of the pool,” she says.
Scroll through ‘older sister trauma’ on TikTok and you’ll also find a fair number of creepy stories, like @nada.bfh's. Her older sisters convinced her that they had another younger sister before she was born and that “they cut her head off because she wasn’t obedient [and that] they would play with her head when [Nada] was asleep.”
It’s got people reflecting on their own relationship with their siblings. “Why are you older siblings so mean to us youngers?” asks one TikTok user. “We look up to you but you guys push us away… All we want is some sister/brother love but we can’t get it or else we are considered ‘annoying’.”
On the flip side, many older siblings are contemplating their treatment of their siblings. “It made me very sad because I know I was not the best older sister to [my younger sister] at all… [I] do regret it all tho,” one user shares.
"She forgives me, but I don't forgive myself."
As an older sister, Harriet* confesses to Refinery29 that she still carries a lot of guilt about the way she treated her younger sister.
“It may have been years ago, but I still feel guilty as an adult for some of the ways I treated my little sister when we were kids. I remember blasting the hairdryer in her eyes, not letting her play with my dollhouse and even just telling her she doesn't know anything and to stop talking," she says.
"Looking back now, you could call this petty, though somewhat innocent, behaviour from a child, but my inner guilt sees it as some form of bullying. Perhaps it stemmed from the jealousy of her getting more attention as the younger child, or perhaps I wanted to assert my role as the older sister who takes the lead. She forgives me, but I don't forgive myself."
As someone who has had my own fair share of sister stories — as both a younger sister and an older sister — I've experienced both sides of the coin. I'm undecided about whether these tormenting experiences are a rite of passage for siblings, or whether it's actually bullying.
I'm thinking about a few problematic moments: I played 'slaves' with my older sister (no surprise as to which role I got handed) and I've demanded that my little sister fetch me various things from around the house, menacingly counting down "three... two... one..." like some ancient monarch.
In the same breath, I know that my sisters love and care for me deeply, and I'd happily fetch miscellaneous household items for them, no menacing counting needed.