4 myths about being a middle child that you should stop believing — according to a psychology professor

polya_olya/ShutterstockMany believe middle children are neglected, damaged, and more shy than their siblings.
  • The middle child is often portrayed as an underachiever with underdeveloped social skills.
  • The driving force behind this picture is the idea that those with “middle-child syndrome” are damaged by the experience receiving less attention than their siblings.
  • In reality, the middle child can often cultivate skills that their siblings do not because of their birth-order circumstances.

The portrait of a typicalmiddle childcan be bleak. In short, it’sJan Bradyyelling “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” while her older sistergets all the praise and her younger sister gets any remaining parental attention. It seems like the least desirable place to be as akid.

But in reality,middlebornscan stray far from that depiction. That’s partially because family dynamics can differ greatly in comparison to the 1950s nuclear family still sometimes perpetuated in pop culture.

It’s also because personality is impacted by a ton of other factors besides birth order.

So even though being a middlechildcan influence the way you interact with others and how you think about your place in the world, it isn’t always what people believe it to be, according toDr. Catherine Salmon, professor of psychology at the University of Redlands in California and coauthor of the book, “The Secret Power of Middle Children: How Middleborns Can Harness Their Unexpected and Remarkable Abilities.”

Here are four middle-child myths you need to stop believing:


1. They’re underachievers

Tim Boyle/Getty ImagesMiddle children may have a different set of expectations than their siblings.

Parents often have a clear set of expectations for the first child, while middleborns are left to their own devices. That lack of expectations is often thought to foster an underachieving mindset, but that’s not always the case, Salmon told Business Insider.

In fact, having the freedom to choose their own path in life can result in a successful career. It just will likely look a bit different than that of the parents or siblings.

Being in the middle can allow children to develop skills that others don’t have to practice until later in life, like negotiating for peace between siblings, figuring out what people want, being independent, and trying new things, Salmon said.

“It can create certain kinds of people, like Bill Gates, Carly Fiorina, and Charles Darwin – people who are willing to entertain things that are outside the box,” Salmon said.


2. They’re wallflowers

patat/ShutterstockThere are other factors that contribute to how middle children socialise besides their birth order.

In general,middle childrentend to be have a more positive view of their friends and friendship in general, and place more importance on those relationships than their siblings, according to a 2003 study published in Human Nature.

While having a super-social and outgoing older sibling can make it harder for a middle child to stand out, there are many other factors that will determine how social a child is, Salmon said.

“About 50% of most of our personality is influenced by genetic contributions, environment, and interaction between the two … as well as factors outside the home, like peers, local culture, and neighbourhoods,” she said.


3. They’re ‘damaged’

Motortion Films/ShutterstockMany are under the impression that middle children are neglected.

Many people think of middleborns as somewhat neglected in comparison to their siblings.

“People can’t imagine that that wouldn’t mess you up. Like if you’re not the sole focus of your parents’ attention, then you must suffer in some way,” Salmon said.

Salmon suggested imagining what it was like for earlier generations who had large numbers of children.

“They couldn’t focus all of their attention on one child,” Salmon said. “I think there’s this idea that people are easily damaged by somehow not being the center of the universe. I don’t think there’s any real good evidence to that.”


4. They are forever stuck with middle-child syndrome

pixelheadphoto digitalskillet/ShutterstockYour birth order can influence how you interact with others, but that’s up to you to decide.

As several experts told Prevention, there’s little evidence that “middle-child syndrome” is real.

In reality, whether or not you fit the middle-child mould is a question of nature versus nurture – but it’s mainly a question of how you choose to interact with the world. Your birth order can influence this, but you have the ultimate say as to how to respond to external forces.

“In school, some people may be naturally good at maths. That doesn’t mean that other people can’t figure out how to do it, it just takes more effort,” Salmon said. “So for middle children, some things may be easier, but you aren’t necessarily slotted into that role for the rest of your life.”

August 12 isNational Middle Child Day. If you have a middle child, or you are one, it’s a good time to make it clear that the Jan Bradys of the world aren’t stuck with the narrow characterization perpetuated by pop culture.

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