Many parents unintentionally favor one child over others, a phenomenon observed in about 65% of families across various cultures. Although sometimes seen as a harmless family quirk, research indicates that parental favoritism, or “parental differential treatment” (PDT), can have serious long-term impacts on children’s mental health and family dynamics. The experience can vary widely within the family, with some siblings denying its existence. The effects of this differential treatment can manifest as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and even contribute to more severe outcomes like addiction or homelessness.
- Parental Favoritism Is Common: Research shows that parental favoritism occurs in around 65% of families and across different cultures. It’s more than just a family quirk, and psychologists have termed it “parental differential treatment” or PDT.
- Subjective Experience: The experience of favoritism can vary within a family, with some siblings feeling less favored and others denying its existence altogether. A professor of applied psychology, Laurie Kramer, notes that different family members might perceive the favoritism differently, contributing to these varied experiences.
- Long-term Effects on Mental Health: Parental favoritism has been associated with a range of mental health issues including low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and behavioral problems in children. The consequences can be profound and persist into adulthood.
- Extended Consequences: Some studies have linked parental favoritism to more extreme outcomes, such as mobile phone addiction in adolescents or a contributing factor to homelessness. While some of these studies are small, they shed light on how deeply parental favoritism can affect a child’s life.