Under the age of 11, children who kill don’t usually understand that death is an irrevocable event.  But once children crossover into adolescence, they typically kill if they feel victimized, or when they meet restraints that they believe to be unfair.

Freud called adolescence the period of “strum and angst.” Aristotle called adolescence the time of insanity. Today, we know it is a time of tremendous growth and hormonal change, which causes both the mind and the body to be emotionally vulnerable.

Adolescents have a sense of omnipotence and they test themselves against their environment, experimenting and participating in more dangerous activities than they ever will at any other time of their lives. A self-focus, bordering on narcissism, helps frame their identity, self-esteem, and self-worth. When frustrated or angry, adolescents may feel victimized. If empathy is missing, as it is in most bullies, frustration can lead to aggression. If a child doesn’t have the means to solve problems through communication, then he will strike out when angry to relieve tension, anxiety; or to get his own way.

The stress of anger can elevate the cortisol levels in the brain, which also effects brain architecture and impulse control.  When adolescents lose impulse control, they may reach for a power symbol — such as a knife or a gun.  If they lose control and chose a weapon, they may kill to hide their behavior. Adolescents, in particular, can display this high-risk behavior, as their immaturity and impulsivity can impair their judgment.

Sibling problems can be unusually intense, as siblings spend so much time together and have a unique and intimate history. Sibling adolescents fight just as much as younger siblings do, but because of their intellect and size, can often do more damage.

The ages of 10-15 are extremely competitive between siblings, and the mental and biological changes of adolescence often affect their relationships with their parents. As adolescents strive for significance and parental attention, sibling rivalry may emerge. This constellation of events can be corrected if parents know their children, pay attention, are even-handed with the attention they show their children, and intervene when necessary.

Going back to the Biblestory of Cain and Abel, you could argue that Cain was, in a sense, innocent, as he did not know what death was and was responding to jealousy.  As early as one year of age, children are aware of parental favoritism.  By three years of age, children begin to know the social rules, and can measure themselves against their siblings.

Steps to reduce the power of sibling rivalry among children include:

  1. Do not compare, label, or show favoritism.
  2. Make each child feel part of something larger than each other: a family, a home team.
  3. Spend private time with each child, giving special attention when needed.
  4. Guide your child through angry outbursts, helping him face his problems and work through them.
  5. Pay attention, know your child, and watch for inappropriate behavior, especially behavior that is not age-appropriate.
  6. Notice bullying and intervene when necessary.

All children want to be loved, valued, and respected by their parents. They want their parents to be fair and even-handed, with love, attention, and discipline. Parents are the most important influence on their children’s behavior, therefore, if parents positively endorse their children and are responsive to their emotions, they may be able to bring siblings together, rather than push them apart.

Finally, it is still the family’s values, ideas, and attitudes that offer up violence as an option to problem-solving. Therefore, parents can make a difference by acknowledging and recognizing when problems exist, and getting professional help when necessary.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at EmpowHER.com since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Amazon.com. Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.