Many of us – approximately 80 percent of the U.S. population – have at least one sibling. This means that many of us have experienced the fighting and friendship that sibling bonds can cultivate. Research shows that while these relationships can create conflict, they can also foster skill development.
Gabrielle Kline, who will join the Department of Counseling and Learning Sciences as an assistant professor this fall, studies the significant functions that sibling relationships serve across the life course.
“Sibling relationships are very important,” Kline said. “These are the longest relationships that many individuals will have, because we’re more likely to have our siblings in our lives for a longer period of time than our parents, spouses or partners.”
According to Melissa Luna, associate dean for research in CEHS, Kline’s work will add to the scholarship and academic programs in the College.
“We welcome Dr. Kline to CEHS. Her scholarship is of great interest to our human development and family studies faculty and students in particular,” Luna said. “While those of us with siblings can attest to the impacts these relationships have had on our lives, Dr. Kline can attest to much broader impacts of sibling relationships going well beyond the individual—from family systems, to cultural systems, to society. This area of research is exciting, and we look forward to learning from and with Dr. Kline as she joins us in CEHS.”
Kline became interested in studying families toward the end of her undergraduate education at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. She initially majored in psychology, but she eventually switched her focus to sociology. After completing her bachelor’s degree, Kline decided to further her education in human development and family sciences at the University of Missouri at Columbia.
“I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a professor at a university, but I knew that I needed more education in the field no matter what career path I chose,” Kline said.
While studying in her doctoral program, Kline worked with faculty mentors who sparked her interest in the dynamics of sibling relationships. She noted that certain characteristics of sibling relationships, including their longevity and intimacy, can make these relationships some of the most unique and beneficial that individuals have.
“Siblings can be a really positive influence throughout life,” Kline said. “They can be quite protective of one another and the bond that they share can be helpful for outcomes like depressive symptoms or self-esteem. Because they’re often close in age, siblings can provide support as they transition through different life stages.”
Kline also conceded that sibling relationships also have drawbacks, and the main drawback that many parents cite is conflict.
“Conflict is one of the biggest complaints that parents with multiple children have,” Kline said. “Siblings do fight, but the conflict isn’t always a bad thing. From an early age, people can learn constructive ways to resolve conflict with their siblings and practice those in other relationships.”
According to Kline, conflict resolution is not the only skill that individuals can develop from their relationships with siblings. In some families, sibling caregiving in adolescence impacts responsibility skills later in life. For her dissertation, Kline focused on caregiving in adolescent and young adult sibling relationships in Latino/Latina families.
“My project looked retrospectively at how caregiving occurred in adolescence among siblings and how that impacted their responsibility skills in young adulthood,” Kline said. “I found that caregiving does matter for these things, so again, the skills that we practice with siblings can be helpful in the future.”
Kline’s interest in studying the Latino/Latina population originated with her desire to understand how culture and tradition impact family dynamics. In understanding more about how these pieces fit into the family puzzle, Kline hopes to help this population thrive.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic has radically altered how families function, Kline anticipates that caregiving might be more prevalent among siblings as families adapt to new situations, regardless of their cultural background.
“When parents have to work at home, we may see elder siblings caring for their younger siblings so that parents can get work done,” Kline said. “Families will also spend much more time together in quarantine, which provides opportunities to become closer, but can lead to more conflict.”
In the future, Kline intends to find more avenues to implement and translate her research to serve communities. As she prepares for the fall semester at WVU, she is most looking forward to working with students.
“I’m really excited about teaching WVU undergraduates. It’s one of my favorite parts of this job,” Kline said. “Right now, I’m looking forward to teaching in the online format to reach more students and build an online class in a way that’s engaging and captivating for them so that their learning experiences are similar to a face-to-face class.”
The faculty of the Department of Counseling and Learning Sciences look forward to welcoming Kline.
“We are excited to have Gabrielle join the faculty,” Root said. “Her expertise in the area of sibling and parent-child relationships during adolescence and young adulthood will directly contribute to multiple programs in Counseling and Learning Sciences, including the newly launched degree in Youth and Family Science. I’m particularly enthusiastic about her work on the development of familism among young adults, and the potential connections this work has to Appalachia.”